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In a ground-breaking study published in the fall/winter issue of Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, a six-week program based upon Group Empowered Drumming demonstrated not only reduced burnout in long-term care workers, but also reduced Total Mood Disturbance by 46%. 1
The researchers, citing industrywide human resources data, projected that such an improvement could result in an 18.3% reduction in employee turnover, saving an average 100-bed facility more than $89,000 a year — and the entire long-term care industry as much as $1.46 billion annually.
"We now have an evidence-based program that is shown to be cost effective and beneficial for employees," asserts Christine Stevens, MSW, MA, MT-BC, director of music therapy and wellness for HealthRHYTHMS, a division of Remo Inc., a Valencia, CA-based firm that manufactures the drums used in these programs. "It reduces burnout, improves morale, and has proven cost-effectiveness."
It may seem surprising at first that something as simple as drumming can have such a powerful impact on worker wellness, but Stevens explains that it is not only powerful, but in many ways a mainstream, rather than an alternative, approach to wellness.
"Drumming is a vehicle that integrates a lot of proven health strategies; it really has more to do with feeling good," she says. "Everyone has rhythm; everyone has a heart beat. Everyone grew up hearing their mother’s heart in the womb, and thus we are wired for rhythm. When we were little kids we all wanted to bang on pots and pans."
In terms of wellness, drumming really is about stress reduction, exercise, self-expression, building connections with other people, and spirituality, says Stevens. "Those are the key elements we find create a health benefit."
She goes on to note that Webster’s dictionary defines wellness as "the active pursuit of health."
How it works
"What we’re talking about," Stevens emphasizes, "is active music-making — people taking an active role in their own well-being. It is a shift from Just give me the pill’ to being involved in personal health. In addition, it’s palatable; this is for all people, all religions, all tribes. And it doesn’t have any side effects."
In the aforementioned study, a total of 112 workers were selected at Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Center in Meadville, PA.
"We eliminated those who had drummed before," says Stevens. "We wanted to show that you don’t need prior experience."
In an earlier study, she notes, her group had compared four kinds of drumming, to determine which elements worked best. "It’s a kind of best practice approach, integrating into science and medicine," she explains. "In other words, we sought to discover the best way to deliver this program for people who had not drummed before."
In the study, participants were given six weekly one-hour sessions. Each session began with five-minute mind/body wellness exercise played on a Clavinova (a computerized keyboard instrument). Breathing, music, and awareness were incorporated into these sessions, as music played in the background. An ice-breaking session followed, during which shakers were passed around at increased speed until they dropped, which usually resulted in group laughter.
Then, participants chose their drums, and were given a short explanation of drumming. They began with rhythmic naming, or tapping out the syllables of their names, together with Clavinova accompaniment. About halfway through, they were asked to respond nonverbally, by playing their drums, to a series of 12 questions designed to inspire deep thought, contemplation, and mutual respect. (See questions, below.)
They were then given the option to discuss their responses. Each subsequent week, they were encouraged to put into practice insights gained from previous sessions. At the end of each session, the initial mind/body exercise was repeated.
"The key steps of the protocol are always the same, but every group is different," notes Stevens. "The differences are based on empowering the group to perceive what they need."
Why it works
Why is group drumming so effective? "The reason it works is because of the integration of the other health promotion strategies," Stevens explains. "We know what they are, so when you combine them with music, it is engaging."
The second key, she says, is that the protocol is a whole-person approach. "Music reaches the mind, the body, and the spirit — there’s something integrative and fully encompassing of the whole person," says Stevens.
The group structure also is critical. "When you create a system of support, permissiveness, creativity, and freedom, you can really support an individual’s transformation," Stevens asserts. "We all need that environment to help us move in a direction that’s healthy — to move beyond our perceived limitations."
When individuals experience difficulty with their drum, members of the group can tap each others’ drums, which often creates a breakthrough, notes Stevens. "We work in teams, so when we drum in teams, it transfers the benefits of drumming to the team. The magic is when we make music in a group, and we start bringing spirit into the music, and it just gets better."
Any worksite is appropriate
Group drumming can be performed at any worksite, Stevens says. "There’s nothing to stop you from doing it; you hire a facilitator and send one of your staff for training, or you just hire a consultant, and you’ve built something that is sustainable and accessible. And the drums last."
It costs a total of about $5,000 to train two people and to purchase the drums (which cost around $2,700), says Stevens.
"Most companies have paid more than that for a keynote speaker to come in and boost morale," she observes.
Any worksite can benefit from this program, Stevens asserts. "We chose to test long-term care employees because there was a scale available [for measuring changes in burnout and mood dimension], and this is an industry that is very challenged economically."
She is convinced the protocol is translatable to virtually any industry.
"Toyota is doing group drumming in it headquarters," Stevens reports. "They’ve actually built a drum room, and they bring employees in there and drum."
She foresees a big future for drumming. "This is just the beginning; I think this study will be the tipping point," she predicts.
Stevens recognizes, however, that when many occ-health professionals think of what they can do to improve employee health, they do not think of music. "But we need to change our thinking," she insists. "Music is not an alternative therapy; it is a key element of an holistic approach to wellness."
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1. Bittman B, Bruhn KT, Stevens C, et al. Recreational music-making: A cost-effective group interdisciplinary strategy for reducing burnout and improving mood states in long-term care workers. Advances in Mind-Body Medicine 2003; 19(3/4): 4-15.