Live Music Strikes the Right Note in Military Health Facility

Megan Brooks

May 21, 2015

TORONTO – A performing arts program that provides live music at a military treatment facility is having a "remarkable" effect on the emotional state of patients and staff, new research shows.

"For the good of patients, staff, and the whole hospital, I think it's worth it developing a performing arts series at your respective medical institution," LCDR Micah J. Sickel, MD, PhD, from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, told attendees here at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2015 Annual Meeting.

Dr Sickel directs the music program at Walter Reed called Stages of Healing. The program, which started out with monthly events, has grown to weekly performances. Performances, mostly of live music, are held in common areas of the hospital and are attended by patients, patient families, staff, and visitors.

To measure its impact, Dr Sickel surveyed a cross section of 220 individuals who attended programs in 2013 and 2014. The survey included a number of questions, including whether they felt that the performance decreased overall stress levels and how they felt before and after the performance.

The results were "remarkable," Dr Sickel told APA 2015 attendees.

Before and After

"We got the same answers repeatedly." Before the performance, people typically reported "not feeling so good, whether they were sad or tired or stressed, while after the performance, they reported feeling a whole lot better, with comments such as happy, rejuvenated, inspired," he said.

More than 90% of respondents said the events help take their mind off of stressors. About 60% of respondents said they typically spend about 15 to 30 minutes at a performance, "so it's something they can do on a lunch break and have a positive impact," said Dr Sickel.

It is also important, he said, to recognize that the benefit of the performing arts program goes beyond the wounded soldier who is coming to the hospital for treatment.

"We aren't just playing for a single population. We are playing for everyone who is involved: the patient, the family, the treating staff, and the support staff," Dr Sickel said.

The comments and feedback submitted to the patient relations department at the center show that the program is making a difference. He noted, for example, one individual who said he "immensely" enjoys the events, that he looks forward to future events, and that he plans to "schedule my appointments accordingly.

"I think that is powerful when someone is going to schedule when they come to the hospital based on when the performing arts schedule is. That speaks to the power of the program." Another individual called attending the programs "an island of calm and opportunity to decompress, even for just a few minutes."

Reached for comment, Stine Jacobsen, PhD, who heads the music therapy program at Aalborg University in Denmark, told Medscape Medical News that "using music to create positive experiences in settings like hospitals and hospices and in circumstances with much pain and distress is not an uncommon event within the field of music therapy."

"The powerful influence of music is implemented to connect people and empower them in difficult situations. Listening together, singing together, or playing together as a family is a particularly powerful shared experience that can strengthen bonds in the family and enhance healthy relations," she added.

Dr Sickel and Dr Jacobsen report no relevant financial relationships.

American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2015 Annual Meeting. Presented May 17, 2015.

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