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Music for the Spirit: Finding a Rhythm for Recovery

Take a drum, take a seat, and feel the beat.


Vinland Chemical Health Case Manager Mark Collins starts the beat on a bongo drum. Then Vinland clients in the group “Music for the Spirit” join in and the real noise — and healing — begins.

“I think it’s primal,” Collins said of drumming. “Since the beginning of time, people gathered around a fire with drums. I believe in the healing power of music and drumming.”

For about six months, Collins has worked on this healing power in hopes Vinland clients can benefit by participating in a drumming circle.

“Research has shown the benefits of music, especially with mental illness,” Collins said. “Clients have been through the same stuff for years. This music group breaks that. They can relax with music.”

“Everything is rhythm,” Collins said. “A heartbeat, how we walk, how we speak, the orbit of our planet—it all has rhythm to it.”

Collins makes the distinction that the group is not “music therapy,” but a way for Vinland clients to come together and identify their own feelings, thoughts and emotions they are having as they reach recovery.


“I play music to provoke emotions too and to see their response,” he said. “I work on expanding their musical influences and help them find their recovery song— a song that’s your center and can work anytime or any day whether you’re feeling good or bad.”

Collins will play a client’s song for the group. He’ll display its lyrics so clients can see and understand more about a song they like or choose.

“Sometimes they don’t realize the meaning behind the words they’re singing along with or know in a favorite song,” he said. “Sometimes they end up with a different recovery song that’s not their favorite one anymore.”

The group discusses major and minor keys in music and the varying tempos of songs they like. At the start of every group time Collins asks each client to say a feeling that they have and then asks again at the end of their time together, often it’s different.

“By the end, about 90 to 100 percent of the group says they are calm or more relaxed,” Collins said. “The goal is to help define peace for them and to have a coping skill for when they leave here.”

One of the most challenging aspects of introducing the music group time is overcoming prejudice and resistance.

“I ask them to keep an open mind and set aside their prejudice for or against different kinds of music and simply be open to listening to something new,” Collins said.

Sometimes even upbeat music can trigger something in a client who may get overwhelmed with emotions and memories associated with it. Collins keeps them engaged by allowing Vinland clients to make their own music during the drumming circle. Clients can play drums, use shakers or tambourines, or even sit and listen to how the group rhythms and sounds change during the 15-20 minute freestyle play.

“We will even do humming to help find your own personal vibration,” Collins said. “I ask them to feel the hum as a practice of mindfulness of where it comes from within them and that’s calming.”

Playing music and humming can be a challenge in a room full of strangers, but Collins tells the clients it’s okay to try something new because everyone there is trying something new.

“Your whole self changes in recovery,” he said. “We each have emotional attachment to music we hear and perhaps they can leave this group understanding that attachment more and have an open mind on the influence and power of music.”

Drumming has always been a part of Collins’ life, who plays drums in four different bands. He’s happy to share his knowledge of drums and music with Vinland clients every week.