Polyvagal-Informed Therapeutic Drumming for Victims of Interpersonal Violence: A Feasibility Study

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Introduction/Background: The inclusion of therapeutic modalities for trauma survivors that integrate the brain, mind, and body is essential for addressing the range of physiological responses and symptoms caused by interpersonal violence (van der Kolk, 2014). Neglecting to include the body in therapy leaves out an essential component necessary for healing. The Polyvagal Theory helps explain the physiological responses to trauma from the perspectives of biology and neuroscience (Porges, 2018). An emerging method that has been used as a therapeutic tool has been the incorporation of rhythm and drumming. Methods: This intervention integrated concepts from polyvagal theory into therapeutic drumming exercises, such as exploring the different nervous system states through sound and rhythm. Therapy clients of the Women and Gender Resource Center (WGRC) at the University of Alabama (UA) were invited to participate in 5 individual therapy sessions incorporating rhythm and drumming, with 8 total participants. Participants were then interviewed about their experiences, and the recorded interviews were transcribed and coded for thematic analysis. Results: Five main themes emerged from the interviews: connecting with sound, insights gained, sense of agency, sense of safety, and social connection. Several sub-themes related to each theme are also discussed. Discussion: As an initial feasibility study, this project’s aim was to discover what participants liked and gained from the drumming sessions. All participants mentioned some type of movement from a sense of isolation to a sense of connection. The drumming sessions also offered survivors of trauma a creative and safe outlet for expressing difficult emotions and memories that may otherwise be too difficult to discuss using words.

Trauma, Rhythm, Polyvagal, Feasibility study