Musical Medicine: Easing Pain & Bringing Joy
"Music makes our world a better place and complements everyone working in the hospital." - April Mitchell, Certified Music Practitioner
Carts of equipment clattering down the hallway, beeps and buzzes of heart monitors, urgent pages over the intercom— the sounds of health care can be unsettling.
But for a short while, hospital patients, visitors, and staff can experience calm among the clatter with a different kind of medicine: harp, guitar, and soft vocal music from Sacred Harmonies, Providence Everett’s therapeutic music program.
Musicians have been part of Providence care teams for more than 20 years. It’s a low-tech aspect of care that brings healing to all who hear it.
A transformative experience
April Mitchell, a Certified Music Practitioner who plays the harp and sings at Providence Everett, says music can positively affect everyone, from the nurses and caregivers to visitors walking by. But the most awe-inspiring moments happen at the bedside.
“I played for a paraplegic patient recently, and he said during his visit he felt like he was running in the fields—he forgot for a moment he was paralyzed. The music took him to a different place, and he felt free and alive,” April shared.
Music as medicine can go beyond the limits of a patient’s imagination. Numerous studies have found that therapeutic music can lower heart rates, improve oxygen levels, and relieve pain. After playing harp sessions for the babies and their families in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), April says nurses and parents tell her that feedings improve for the tiny patients.
“This is a high-alert pod. Usually, we have alarms going off all the time,” a NICU nurse shared after one of April’s half-hour sessions. “I’m surprised—I’ve only had one alarm go off since you started playing.”
Patients can even create the therapeutic benefits for themselves. One of April’s patients had been hospitalized for many weeks. At home, he enjoyed playing the guitar and ukulele. After learning about her patient’s music prowess, she arranged for a loaner guitar to be provided to him during his stay so he could continue the music sessions on his own throughout the week.
“It brings a lot of joy to everyone around,” April says.
April has seen dementia patients, who are unable to communicate, begin to sing along to the music and even regain a few moments of lucidity. Visitors often get emotional, with the music giving them the space to process their loved one’s medical circumstances.
An alternative to traditional care
April and her fellow music practitioner, a guitarist, are on the Spiritual Care team, a group of chaplains and musicians providing peace and comfort to patients. April says music provides an avenue for patients who are not religious to still receive comfort.
“Some people don’t want anything to do with religion, but they really benefit from and appreciate the music,” April says. “Music has a way of speaking deeply to our soul and allows us to process things we sometimes can’t with words. It provides healing, comfort, and a safe place to express our emotions.”
Community helps make music more widely available
Providence General Foundation donors have a hand in this musical method of healing. Foundation funding is providing a new harp and iPads so when April or her colleagues aren’t available, patients can listen to pre-loaded harp music during their stay. Providence musicians are exploring ways to share the music even more widely through an online or streaming music service.
Caregivers and community members can also get involved with the newly formed music volunteer program that allows volunteers to share their musical talents with patients and caregivers in the hospital lobby.
“My hope is that as we continue providing proof that therapeutic music works, more medical facilities will welcome it as a prescriptive treatment in health care. Providence is doing it right,” says April. “Music makes our world a better place and complements everyone working in the hospital. I’m so grateful to Providence for valuing music—to patients, it means the world.”
Want to volunteer your musical talents?
Contact our Volunteer Services Team at (425) 261-4580 or VolunteerServicesInfo@providence.org