Music therapy good for COVID burnout

Experts find it can help the brain find new pathways after either physical or emotional trauma.



June 28, 2021 - 8:32 AM

Workers in a range of professions are experiencing what has come to be known as COVID burnout, characterized by a lack of motivation, fatigue, depression or isolation. After an intensive year of war against a deadly virus that has killed some 600,000 people in the U.S., health care workers are suffering battle fatigue.

Perhaps it’s time for a little music.

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords used music therapy to recover after being shot in the brain by a protester in 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. (Christopher Brown/Zuma Press/TNS)

To help these front-line, essential caregivers to manage their mental health, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office has partnered with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts to provide art and music therapy. This is a creative, out-of-the-box solution that is well-documented to have far-reaching benefits for those who choose to participate.

Music therapy, once regarded as somewhat fringe, has received significant focus in research in recent decades, with results indicating that it can positively impact both physical and mental maladies. One of the best-known examples of the effectiveness of modern music therapy is the experience of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who, after taking a bullet to the brain during an assassination attempt, learned to speak again in part due to music therapy interventions. With the help of her therapists, Giffords literally rewired some of the speech pathways in her brain, an impressive demonstration of music’s ability to influence neuroplasticity.

Researchers in Italy have asked and answered the question of whether music therapy is effective in treating front-line health care workers suffering from COVID-19 burnout. A 2020 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that listening to music or playing or singing music can reduce the body’s levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This can impact sleep quality and blood pressure, memory and brain function.

In Pennsylvania, the main thrust of the therapy program will be to reduce stress and address trauma. Study after study has indicated that music therapy can promote positive changes in mood, reduce blood pressure, relax muscle tension and improve psychological health and resiliency. The Hospital and Healthcare Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) will launch a pilot program in the southeastern part of the state and roll out additional programs as time goes on. Other state health departments should keep a close eye on Pennsylvania’s efforts and adopt their own programs as needed.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette