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Healing power of music tapped for healthcare workers in new study

March 01, 2021
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A virtual pilot study to investigate how music therapy can improve the mental health of healthcare workers has been launched by Simon Fraser University and Music Heals. The study will focus on the healing effects of music on healthcare workers who are at a higher risk of developing PTSD, trauma, depression and other mental health disorders.

Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic has added to their workload, increased stress and mental health concerns for healthcare professionals.

SFU neuroscientist Ryan D’Arcy is leading the study with the BrainNET team of researchers at Surrey’s Health and Technology District. The team will measure changes in the brains of 20 adult healthcare workers participating in music therapy sessions using standardized neurocognitive tests and electroencephalography (EEG). Study participants will be recruited with the assistance of the Fraser Health clinical research team from Surrey Memorial Hospital.

“It is imperative to care for the morale and mental health of our health care workers to maintain the viability of our health care system especially during the pandemic, and we need to investigate mechanisms to offer psychosocial support to these important populations,” says study coordinator Shaun Fickling, a biomedical engineer and recent SFU PhD graduate.

“There has been scientific evidence that shows there are benefits of music therapy on mental health, and it’s worth further exploring how it can help improve brain function and the mental health of health care workers during COVID-19.”

Measuring the effects of music therapy

The study group will complete a four-week virtual music therapy session facilitated by a certified music therapist accredited by the Canadian Association of Music Therapists. Therapy sessions will involve creating and performing live music. Musical elements such as pitch, rhythm and melody, are processed in different parts of the brain and using both hands to play music can also stimulate inter-hemispheric coordination of motor areas.

The study is sponsored by Music Heals with research funding provided by the Canadian Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems (MITACS).

“Music therapy has been shown to be effective when used therapeutically for people who have physical, emotional, social, cognitive or mental health deficits,” says Taryn Stephenson, Director of Brand Partnerships and Sponsorship at Music Heals.

“With COVID-19 being such a huge burden on society, particularly with healthcare workers, we hope that by studying how music therapy can impact brain function, we can provide additional scientific evidence to prove the efficacy of music therapy on mental health.”