By Rebecca Grapevine
Guitarist Chuck Beckman was inspired to pursue a career in therapeutic live music for inpatients after playing at the bedside of a dying friend.
His goal, he says, “was to play for patients in the last moments of their lives.” And he founded a program to do just that at the Gainesville Hospital of the Northeast Georgia Health System two years ago.
But the music stopped at the start of the pandemic. Beckman and his fellow therapeutic musicians could no longer play their instruments at bedside due to the risk of infection.
As the pandemic dragged on and even worsened, the toll of healthcare workers became evident.
Beckman and his fellow therapeutic musicians therefore returned to the hospital in May 2020, this time with a new audience: workers rather than patients.
Musicians, specially trained to provide and play therapeutic music, have moved into nursing stations, hoping to ease the nerves of workers facing the onslaught of COVID cases, equipment shortages and overall medical risks.
“Almost immediately I could see the impact this was having” on the staff, Beckman said. He saw tears shine in the nurses’ eyes and watched the nurses “fold their hands, close their eyes and tilt their heads back for 30 seconds, just to check.”
Beckman and his colleagues set out to document the impact of live therapeutic music on worker stress.
Their study found that 30 minutes of live therapeutic music reduced perceived stress by frontline COVID workers by 44.74%.
Sixty workers in the Covid intensive care units listened to acoustic guitar or piano (keyboard) music midway through their shifts and rated their stress levels on a scale of 0 to 10, before and after the session. They also reported on their general stress level using a well-known questionnaire, the Perceived Stress Scale.
The musicians played classical or contemporary music with 50 to 60 beats per minute in the care stations. They improvise according to the moods and reactions of the workers.
All healthcare workers had higher stress levels than the average American, according to the to study, published in the Interprofessional Journal of Health and Research.
Those who were the most stressed before experienced the greatest reduction in stress from the music session.
“I’m not at all surprised with the results,” said Dr. Bryant Lin, director of humanities and medical arts and associate professor of clinical medicine at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
“Music calms the autonomic nervous system,” Lin added, referring to the “automatic” part of the human nervous system that controls unconscious functions like breathing and heartbeat.
“There is substantial evidence that music and social interactions reduce stress,” he said.
“The idea of bringing music and personal connection together is so powerful and I hope it will become more common in hospitals,” Lin said.
“I think this is very good preliminary data,” echoed Carolyn Phillips, assistant professor at the University of Texas-Austin School of Nursing.
“More solid study is needed to understand the full potential,” Phillips added.
The Northeast Georgia Medical Center team is planning a larger and more in-depth study in the future.
“I don’t think there is anything that can beat the human-to-human interaction,” said Phillips, referring to how live musicians might respond to “what’s going on and what’s needed. in the room “, or, in this case, the hospital ward.
Not the same as music therapy
The musicians are all trained to provide music to the sick. Along with Beckman, the guitarist, the Gainesville hospital employs a pianist, a flautist and a harpist. Beckman also runs a nonprofit, Strings of Mercy, dedicated to raising funds for similar programs at other hospitals.
Beckman pointed out that live therapeutic music is different from music therapy.
Music therapy focuses on the patient’s relationship with the therapist. This often involves activities such as the patient and the therapist playing music or writing a song together.
Therapeutic live music is “a little easier, [it’s] an art form based on the science of sound, ”Beckman said. It aims to help patients feel calmer in the moment and has no specific outcome expectation.
Beckman set the example of playing for a patient in pain who finally fell asleep after about 20 minutes.
Before the pandemic, he and his fellow musicians performed for many types of patients, even those in intensive care. Nurses could write orders for a session and musicians would document their sessions in the electronic medical record system, just like any health care provider would, Beckman explained.
The live aspect is essential to the therapeutic effects of music, Beckman said. This is so that the musician can model the game on the responses of the listeners, and because live music is much richer in harmonics than recorded music.
“There are several orders of magnitude of difference” between live and recorded music, said Lin, the Stanford professor. This is because the audience and the performer interact in real time.
“There is a thirst for human interaction, for connection,” he said. “It’s about people first and then music. “
Pianist Connie Muscenti Becomes Live Therapeutic Musician in Northeast Georgia after training with the Music for Healing and Transition program, a nonprofit organization that trains and certifies musicians to perform in healthcare facilities.
“Therapeutic music is an intervention focused on the mind, body and spirit,” said Muscenti, a former music teacher.
Muscenti also performs at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens. There, like other musicians doing this kind of work, she went from playing at the bedside to playing for ward staff around the hospital.
“The hospital administration’s decision to offer live music is one of the best parts of my day,” said Evelyn Riddle, who screens patients and incoming visitors for COVID at the entrance. main building in St. Mary’s.
“Usually a hospital can be a rather intimidating place, but the sweet melodies of the pianist [Muscenti] helps to create a calm and serene atmosphere for the staff as well as for the guests, ”said Riddle.
Riddle said she still looks forward to Musenti’s visits.
Muscenti’s personalized cart for her keyboard has a built-in stool and battery, allowing her to roll wherever she wants to go. She also has hundreds of music tracks at her fingertips on her tablet.
“I love being able to welcome guests and really set the tone for how their day at the hospital can be,” Riddle said, adding that “the fact that I can enjoy the beautiful sounds is worth it.”
Different jobs, different stress levels
Elizabeth Larkins, executive director of nursing services at the Northeast Georgia Health System, noted that the stress in her profession has only increased since the start of the pandemic. And some days can be particularly difficult. For example, nine patients from the Northeast Georgia Health System died in a single 24-hour period a few weeks ago.
Employees are caring for “more patients, working more shifts and longer shifts” than ever before, and this “continues to be the case despite the drop in COVID numbers,” Larkins said .
Covid patients are now generally younger than those admitted at the start of the pandemic.
“These are people who die in the prime of their lives. . . it has an environmental and psychological impact on all of us, ”said Larkins.
Gainesville Hospital, like many others, struggled to find enough nurses.
Four different types of healthcare workers were included in the northeast Georgia study: nurses, respiratory therapists, patient care technicians, and unit secretaries. Respiratory therapists and those in nursing support roles – unit secretaries and patient care technicians – had even higher stress levels than nurses.
Study lead researcher Cheryl Bittel, who is also an intensive care nurse at the hospital, said she was surprised by the finding. She hypothesized that since these employees are the lowest paid in the group and likely have fewer resources to deal with challenges such as childcare when schools are closed, their overall stress level is higher.
Lin, the Stanford professor, added that “the perceived levels of control in your environment” could be contributing to additional stress for these lower paid, but essential workers.
Bittel, the nurse and co-author of the study, said staff members said after hearing the music, “You just helped me through a tough day” or “I needed it.”
Rebecca Grapevine is a freelance journalist born and raised in Georgia. She has written on public health in India and the United States, and has a doctorate in history from the University of Michigan.