Care in a different key: Music therapy benefits brought to life at hospital | TheUnion.com

Care in a different key: Music therapy benefits brought to life at hospital

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union

Participants of the Harp Therapy Support Group share the gift of music with patients and staff throughout Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

When it comes to health care, we typically think of medication, technology and procedures. But more and more often, health care providers are looking past traditional types of care and finding that alternative therapies can yield significant, and sometimes surprising, benefits.

Among these "out of the box" therapies – music.

"Music is such a powerful conduit for healing," says Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Chaplain Perry Mayforth. "Music is underestimated for the power it brings."

“It is so powerful to hear the peaceful sound of music.”Laura SeemanPatient Experience Manager at SNMH

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Researchers at McGill University in Montreal collected data from 400 studies examining the health benefits of music and found that music improves the body's immune system function while also reducing stress.

Music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery.

For the health care providers at SNMH, music therapy has become one more tool in providing care to patients throughout the hospital.

"It is so powerful to hear the peaceful sound of music," says Laura Seeman, Patient Experience Manager at SNMH. "It is truly lovely to see the effect it has on patients."

One person who is bringing that effect to life within the walls of SNMH is Lisa Stine, who leads the SNMH Community Cancer Center's weekly Harp Therapy Support Group.

The group is open to any patient, survivor or family caregiver affected by cancer. Participants don't need any musical training or experience.

"The harp is truly a magical instrument – even simple tunes are fun, and nothing sounds bad on it," explains Stine. "The group allows people to share the beauty and healing power of music."

Stine points to research which has shown that cancer patients engaged in music therapy experience increased energy, improvement in heart rate, and decrease in depression. She finds that music also helps people to share more openly.

"Through music, the group members are able to move into a safe and creative space with new friends. They bond and heal and having the focus on the beauty of the music truly uplifts them."

More than a dozen of Stine's past students "give back" by performing for patients throughout the hospital.

"Volunteering to perform is not a requirement for participation in the program," Stine says. "However, over the years I have observed that this 'gifting' of beauty to others is a big part of the healing process."

And it's not just the melodic sounds of the harp that fill the hospital. Recently, the Yuba Spirit Threshold Singers began coming to SNMH to sing to patients.

There are more than 200 threshold choirs around the world, all sharing the gift of music for those in need, at no charge.

The choir offers small groups of singers who quietly sing to people at a "threshold" of life – either recovering from illness, nearing the end of life or in grief.

Seeman says staff and volunteers throughout the hospital look for patients who may benefit from a visit from the singers.

"Sometimes a patient may be agitated, or the family may be looking for a way to help reduce stress or fear for the patient," Seeman explains. "We call the singers and they gather a few members and come to the bedside and sing. Sometimes its just for a few minutes, sometimes its 20 minutes. They provide such comfort to the patients and, often, to the families."

Proof that sometimes the best care involves more than just the best medicine.

"Music is so powerful, touches our soul, and can express innermost feelings," says Mayforth. "Music connects us with others and creates a powerful bond. Music helps us through some of the most difficult times in our lives and plays a vital role in our healing. If our focus is to heal, then music will have a vital place here at our hospital."

Learn more

The Harp Therapy Support Group has a new session starting soon. To register, please call Lisa Stine at 530-632-6226.

To learn more about the Yuba Spirit Threshold Singers, call Debra Kiva at 530-913-0320.

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