It is a beautiful spring day, slightly warm with a cooler breeze occasionally making itself felt.  Intermittent large puffy clouds drift gently across the majestic blue sky in front of the veranda of this seaside resort in Jamaica.

Jim Travis: I am sitting here with Michael Kenny of the Rhythm Therapy Clinic, as this week’s interview with ground breaking leaders in the health care and wellness industry.  Michael is the founder and director of the Rhythm Therapy Clinic, a foundation that investigates the application of music, and especially rhythm to healing a variety of disabilities.  The Rhythm Therapy Clinic provides group and individual music therapy and rhythm based therapies to people with a wide range of issues.  We caught up with Michael after his ground-breaking book on the relation between our rhythmic diet and wellness.

Jim Travis: So, Michael, I am curious how the idea of the Rhythm Therapy Clinic was born?

Michael Kenny:  In fact, it began with dreams I had in college.  These dreams were all different, taking place in different epochs of human history, but the common thread was that in each one there was a drummer or percussionist who called me to follow him.  In each dream at the end, all his drums would turn on their side and roll along after him as he walked away.  And then I would invariably wake up!  This started me on a quest to find this teacher, or the message or path he was indicating for me.  I set off on what has become a lifelong journey to explore the meaning of music and rhythm, and how to apply this art and science for the improvement of individual lives as well as society as a whole.

Jim Travis: Tell me more about what kind of services you provide and the types of clients you treat?

Michael Kenny:  Well we see a variety of people of all ages from all walks of life.  For example, we conduct sessions in the TaKeTiNa Rhythm Method to treat PTSD, substance abuse issues, pain relief, and healing from childhood trauma.  We also use Neurologic Music Therapy principles to help stroke victims recover functioning in different parts of their bodies, retraining gait, recovering speech, and processing emotions around their loss of abilities.  We also provide anti-bullying and community building programs for schools and community centers, and provide a program for inner city youths to learn cooperation rather than conflict through drum circle protocols.

Jim Travis:  So how did you do it, how did you get from having this idea to opening the pre-eminent clinic focused on the use of music and specifically rhythm as a healing modality?

Michael Kenny:  Well it was a long road, I went to school and initially got my bachelor’s degree in music therapy, then went on to earn my masters in it as well.  I have also had years of training in group music and drum circle facilitation, have gained certification in Neurologic Music Therapy, and the TaKeTiNa Rhythm Process.  I went abroad to Africa to study traditional drumming, and have taught myself to play a number of traditional instruments from cultures around the world.  In the beginning I offered my services contracting for facilities from Autism centers to nursing home, psychiatric and medical hospitals to juvenile detention centers, school and churches.  I also offered private lessons and therapy, group community workshops, made and repaired instruments and did a lot of personal study and introspection on the subject of my own healing journey through music and rhythm.  Eventually I felt I had gone as far as I could pursuing that avenue, and felt I needed to take it to the next level.  This next level included conducting research as well as being able to engage with much greater numbers of people in a more impactful way.

Jim Travis:  What were some of the greatest obstacles you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Michael Kenny:  I guess one of the hardest was trusting that folks would recognize the importance of this work.  Many times, I was dismissed as “that drummer guy” or “the country singer”.  Facilities would reject my services stating that they had volunteers that came and played music for their clients.  So, it was both a question of gaining faith that this was a need people recognize and need, as well as developing the ability to articulate it in a way that people became excited about the possibilities of this approach, which is informed by current cutting-edge research while being a part of the core set of behaviors that make us human.

Jim Travis:  Tell me what is different about your clinic from any other wellness center, or even any other music therapy clinic?

Michael Kenny:  Well for one, our focus in rhythm.  This is not just about the beat of a song, rhythms have the power to organize and energize our movement, organize out thoughts, assist the brain in everything from executing motor movements to speech production, digestion, emotional wellbeing and our feeling of belonging and connectedness.  Also, the fact that we team up with research facilities to conduct research into specific protocols and interventions, strengthening the body of evidence for the effectiveness of what we do.  We are very open minded and curious, yet at the same time insist on science to back up all our work.  We have no relation to many so-called wellness centers that offer a variety of what I call “magical thinking” passive modalities.  We know that there is no magic pill any more than there is a magic song to cure all and heal all.  We are clear that any help we can provide is dependent on the client or patient taking an active partnership role kin his or her own outcomes.

Jim Travis:  How does it feel to be at the forefront of a new model for wellness?

Michael Kenny:  I love it!  I am following the path of my dreams, realizing my bliss through helping others in a way that feels right to me.  It is in arriving at that musical moment in therapy where we are one in the music, where time stands still, where the entire universe is contained in that moment, in that interaction, in that feeling of presence and realness that I feel I am fulfilling my destiny, doing the work that I was sent here to do!  We are always training people to carry this work forward, to keep it advancing and expanding.  I am very proud of the team we have in place providing therapy services, conducting research and community outreach, and in a sense, being advocates of a healthy body, mind and society without drugs, surgery, or rampant incarceration through connecting deeply to that rhythm, that pulse, that transcendence that music allows us to experience together.

Jim Travis:  Was it difficult to get your family on board, or to get acceptance from others in related professions?

Michael Kenny:  No, most of my family was always on board, they are very supportive.  I will admit it has been challenging at times getting other related professionals on board, even other music therapists.  I was once asked if I was doing drum therapy or “traditional music therapy”.  By this the person meant singing and playing the guitar.  In truth, there is no “traditional music therapy” unless we are discussing shamans or healers shaking tattles and singing and dancing the patient to wellness.  There is a reason that these forms of magic/medicine/healing/religion are ubiquitous among human cultures and have survived from our most primitive times through today.  Also, in the U.S. especially, we have been socialized or indoctrinated to only trust an MD or pharmaceuticals and surgical interventions.  People are used to going to the doctor to have him or her “fix” them, but was are not used to going to a doctor who expects us to work, who places the responsibility and execution of treatment to be undertaken by the patient themselves!

Jim Travis:  How has this impacted your life in areas outside of the strictly business focus?

Michael Kenny:  As I tell my students, you have to take your own medicine.  We don’t have faith in the process and practice of rhythm healing because a teacher said so, or we read it in a book, but because we have experienced the results of its healing power in our own lives.  My practice in rhythm, and I am not necessarily talking about school or training, but my internalization and personalization of the practice of what I preach, has made me a happier person and a nicer person to be around!  It is a method for continual learning, creating new synapses in my brain, remaining connected to others, deepening my sense of peace and presence, and fulfilling my desire to offer my services to help my fellow humans while creating a better world for me to live in!  So, yeah, no small thing!

Jim Travis:  Tell me more about how this has changed your life?

Michael Kenny:  Well I used to be a more anxious and impatient person, ha-ha!  I was way more easily triggered, worried about the future, about the past, self-critical and never felt like I had enough education or training to justify myself and my vision.  Through my own experience and practice, I have come to completely trust and be curious about the process, and not to make it about myself or whether I am good enough.  When I see the impact that this work has on the lives of our clients and patients, when I think about the freedom it has given me to take this message to a broader audience, and when I think about how it has enabled me to help so many people even beyond the Clinic, for example with our philanthropic efforts in Africa, it humbles me and at the same time gives me a sense of pride that I am living the life I love and being of service.

Jim Travis:  Where do you see as the next step in your journey of bringing this awareness of the impact of music on healthy living?

Michael Kenny:  I am currently writing a new book on bringing a relationship to rhythm into our everyday lives, publishing research providing very clear insights into specific ways to apply our techniques, and working with professional and community organizations around the world to bring the benefits of our research to establish Rhythm Therapy Clinics as far away as Australia and South America!  I would love to present our findings to the United Nations and to conduct group processes with leaders in government and industry.

Jim Travis:  How would you advise a layperson who is interested in learning more about your work to proceed?

Michael Kenny:   Well they of course can go to our website, there is a lot of information there with links to various services we offer, links to supporting research including our own, and some free instruction on practices anyone can do at home to get more in touch with their own musical rhythmic inner being.  People can also get my book, or attend any of our podcasts or live workshops, or come by one of our clinic locations for a consultation with one of our rhythm therapy specialists.  I would also recommend that they spend some time exploring inward, really tuning into their own rhythms and where they can take more conscious part in establishing more healthy rhythms in their own lives.

Jim Travis:  Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Michael Kenny:  I think it is important for people to know and to accept that they are the authors of their own stories, that they are writing the song of their life regardless and that they can be the composers of that life song and not just the passive listeners.  Also, that music is something that we take so much for granted that we often overlook the reason it is one of the defining characteristics of being human and always has been.  There I great power in music, there is a force in music that shows itself on a cosmic level and a microscopic level, and that we stand at the intersection of these planes of existence.  Rhythm is at the heart of the universe and can bring great healing, peace, and transformation to us if we are willing to really listen.

Jim Travis:  I want to thank you, Michael for taking the time to talk to us today, and I believe that you have inspired many of our listeners to take a deeper look at the place music holds in their lives, and piqued a curiosity about how they can get more personally involved in seeing what your clinic has to offer.  We look forward to hearing about your progress and research, wish you luck in your efforts to bring your work to the United Nations, and hope you will come back again.

Michael Kenny:  Thank you Jim, it has been my pleasure, it was an honor to be able to share my work on with your audience.

 

 

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