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Sharp Health News

Celebrating recovery through music (video)

March 27, 2018

Listen to your own beat in recovery. This motto is taught in a unique form of group therapy at Sharp McDonald Center, one of San Diego’s only chemical dependency recovery hospitals.

Every six weeks, patients in recovery for substance abuse addictions participate in a drumming session as part of a group therapy program that incorporates expressive art activities. The program is Sharp HealthCare’s Arts for Healing Program, which uses art and music therapy to enhance the healing process.

“We want to bring cohesiveness to the group and give members the opportunity to go deeper within themselves and express things they may not be able to articulate with words,” says Heidi Johnston, chaplain and spiritual coordinator at Sharp McDonald Center, who leads the drumming session.

Johnston begins each session with an icebreaker game involving egg noise shakers, which helps introduce patients to rhythmic patterns and eases them in to participating.

Patients are then encouraged to pick an instrument to play from an assortment of hand drums, tubano and djembe drums, and other small percussion instruments.

Johnston leads the initial drumming by teaching participants rhythmic patterns. Then she encourages them to add a beat with their own instrument to create a full group sound.

“Having the group drum together helps them share with one another, to listen, and affirm each other,” says Johnston.

Toward the end of the session, group members volunteer to share their own drumming beat to show what their addiction sounds like to them. Other members reflect on the rhythm, share what they heard and discuss what their own addiction is like.

“We hope the group members come away from the session feeling empowered,” says Johnston. “And that they feel like they can express their inner heart and soul about recovery.”

For the news media: To talk with Heidi Johnston about the Arts for Healing Program for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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