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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Drum Circle beats a rhythm of life for CAMH clients

There are just enough Djembes to go around at the CAMH Complex Mental Illness (CMI) Drum Circle.

It’s a full house for about a dozen clients who are receiving treatment for schizophrenia, and for several of their caregivers. Each participant grabs a Djembe, and soon the sound of the African drums starts to zoom and echo around the spacious sunlit dining space.

Sean Dunal is today’s Drum Circle leader. A performance graduate of the renowned Humber College Music program, Sean has brought his percussion skills to CAMH clients for the past year and half as a volunteer.

Volunteer Sean Dunal
A different drummer: Volunteer Sean Dunal leads the drum circle.

“We’re going to connect through music today but the main thing is to have a good time and build some positive energy,” Sean tells the group.  He demonstrates how to hold the long Djembe drums between your knees, and to elevate them so that the full low-tone sound can bounce out of the bottom of the drums.

Sean begins with a simple rhythm, inviting the group to join in, and the communal pulse of the room builds slowly.  Over the beat of the group, Sean shows his chops with some short solos that encourage others to try some spontaneous drum rhythms. Jessie, a young man in the treatment program, lets loose on his Djembe with a big grin. In the next exercise, each group member starts a rhythm and the group joins in.

Drum group
Circle of life: Drum group is held in the two-storey dining space at Unit 2.

The Drum Circle is held for all Unit 2 clients each week, organized by CMI Recreation Therapist Janine Bakelaar.  “The group is about self-expression for our clients,” she says. “It’s also a chance to release stress, build self-awareness and to connect with the group as a whole.” In some cases the group can be an outlet for release of emotional trauma, she says. Janine and several of her colleagues are taking part in the session today.

Musical roots: For Rocco (at right), the session brings him back to his roots in music.

“Music is inspirational to me and it also helps with my cognition and thought process,” says Rocco, a client with experience as a singer-songwriter. “I’ve grown up on music and it is a part of my life -- it brings me happiness”. As a participant in Drum Circle, Rocco says: “I enjoy being around others who enjoy the art of music.”

Clients are from several different programs on Unit 2. As they get to know each other, a new game focuses on listening to each member of the circle. One person leaves the room temporarily while Sean designates another to start a drum rhythm. The person outside the room has to guess who’s playing. Most of the time, they guess right on the first try, with big smiles all around.

Closeup on hands beating on drum
Guess who? One drum circle game focuses on listening skills to get to know the different drum styles of participants

As the hour winds up, the circle pulses and crescendos into its finale.

Afterwards, Janine presents Sean with a card signed by all of the participants, thanking him for the musical inspiration he has brought to CAMH. Sean, who has played and toured in many bands and teaches percussion, tells the CAMH group he will be moving to pursue music on Canada’s west coast. The program will look for a new drum volunteer to replace Sean.

Today’s drummers put their Djembes away until next time. And for the drum circle at CAMH, the beat goes on.

Caregivers and clients take part in the Drum Circle
The beat goes on: Caregivers and clients take part in the Drum Circle.

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