HealthRHYTHMS and Music Therapy in Employee Wellness

By: Lauren Daniels, MT-BC 

In late July, 2007, I had the honor of presenting HealthRHYTHMS as part of a twelve-week employee wellness program for a private nonprofit organization which offers learning opportunities, community services and career opportunities for the disabled through the creative arts. Not only was HealthRHYTHMS the focal point of this program, it was the basis for a research project designed to examine the clinical impact of HealthRhythms and music therapy treatment strategies on employee communication, teamwork, absenteeism, job satisfaction, and wellness. 

Sessions were conducted once a week after work to provide a time employees could dedicate to their own wellness after the work day. Many of these employees live with great personal and work stress, causing symptoms of caretaker burn-out that results in job resentment, absenteeism, physical illness, emotional and psychological issues and difficulty with teamwork and communication. Many of these employees do not have the resources or time due to work and family constraints to obtain health oriented routines. Culturally, many employees are on diets that are high in fat and carbohydrate intake. Sessions also included healthy living alternative awareness and discussions. 

The HealthRhythms protocol was followed for the first six weeks, and for the second six weeks, music therapy strategies with visual art components were used, including improvisation, music listening and songwriting, drawing and painting. Employees that had been reticent at the start began to open up as the program continued. They identified and discussed their wellness habits, and also personal qualities they knew they could always rely on. They talked about their love for their clients. They explored different obstacles to teamwork, and developed stratgeies to combat them. They each, at one point in the project, stood up in a leadership role and led the group in drumming. They expressed a desire and appreciation for the peace and relaxation each group brought. 

One mermorable moment occurred during an _inspriational beat_ where the employees were asked to drum their greatest challenge on the job. One participant began to drum quietly letting it grow into a strong rhythm, and just as she finished, from across the circle, another employee answered her. I had not suggested that they respond to the playing in any way. It was a spontaneous show of support and understanding from a peer and it began a rhythmic conversation that energized the whole group. 

The results of the study were encouraging: sick hours went down twenty-six percent in the post session period, and twelve percent overall, even during the holidays which is a heavy sick-time period for this company. Job satisfaction increased by eleven points in the post-test analysis. Perhaps even more importantly, the employees asked for the program to continue on an ongoing monthly basis and what they specifically asked for was the drumming. HealthRHYTHMS helped to organize the process and contain the group and allow for further exploration during the music therapy interventions. 

What impressed me, in the project as a whole, was how as individuals, through the drumming, they began to see how it was possible to attend to their own needs, to take care of themselves in a more meaningful way. I noticed early on the struggle many of them had to take just one hour for themselves. They were paid for their time, but it added an exrta hour to their days: an hour many of them would have otherwise spent taking care of their families. For employees in a position of caring for physically disabled clients all day, who then rush home to continue taking care of others, this was a significant step: devoting one hour a week to themselves. They struggled to _let go_ for an hour, and then gradually, they embraced the time, eager for the release. I was inspired by their stamina and dedication, initially to others, and then to themselves, and was reminded of the wide and varied use of the HealthRHYTHMS protocol as a tool for transformation, used both on its own and in conjunction with other interventions, such as music therapy.