Thesis Title

Art and Drumming: A Study on Affect, Attachment and Self-Esteem within the Older Adult Population

Graduation Date

Winter 2019

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Art Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


The purpose of this multi-method experimental study was to determine the possible benefits to wellbeing as a result of participating in a drum circle for older adults. Older adults are at risk for a lower sense of wellbeing due to chronic health issues, perceived loss of autonomy, and the loss of social roles in the family and the community. These factors increase the likelihood that older adults will experience depressive symptoms. Standard treatment for depression includes pharmaceutical and verbal approaches, notably CBT; however, nonverbal approaches may be more effective for older adults because they do not depend on episodic memory, which may decline in older adults. Forty-five participants, aged 55 or older, completed the study in its entirety, with 15 participants in each of three groups: two drumming groups and a control group. Intervention group A (IGA) used commercial drums; intervention group B (IGB) painted a symbol of self on a self-made drum, and a control group, which received no intervention.

A theoretical framework, including object relations theory, attachment theory, neo-socioanalytic theory, the Creative Connection, and the Expressive Therapy Continuum (ETC), was utilized to guide the intervention. Participants completed assessments and interviews before and after the intervention. It was hypothesized that participating in the drumming intervention would lead to changes in depressive symptoms, as measured by the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), sense of purpose (Purpose in Life test; PIL), attachment style (State Adult Attachment Measure; SAAM), and self-esteem, as measured by Formal Elements Art Therapy Scale (FEATS) Scale 8, which was used to analyze the Person Picking an Apple from a Tree (PPAT) drawing. In addition, the IGB was expected to receive more benefits due to the drum symbol serving as a transitional object. Phenomenological research was implemented to further explore and understand the benefits of a drum circle to the older adult population. The qualitative data was derived from emergent themes from semi-structured interviews and researcher field notes.

Both drumming groups showed significant changes in the purpose in life, with the IGA showing significantly greater changes than the control group. IGA also showed a significant change in secure attachment and Scale 10 of the FEATS, which measures depressive symptoms. The IGA group included 5 participants residing in independent living and 10 participants residing in the community, whereas the IGB included 4 participants residing in independent living and 11 participants residing in assisted living. The higher physical functioning of the IGA group may have allowed for dancing within the drum circle and participating in more drum circle directives. Increased participation in the drum circle meant an increase in the therapeutic effect of the intervention, including effects related to immersion in expressive arts and the Creative Connection as theorized by the ETC. Qualitative findings showed growth in the areas of hope, purpose, transformation, and a sense belonging in both the IGA and the IGB. These findings affirm that the immersion in the expressive arts has the potential to improve overall wellness of older adults with important implications for the fields of art therapy and the expressive arts.