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NewsAnnouncements : WRNMMC researches mental well-being through “The Stages of Healing” performing arts series

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WRNMMC researches mental well-being through “The Stages of Healing” performing arts series

07/13/2017

By AJ Simmons

WRNMMC Command Communications

For the past six years, a variety of performers have visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) from the surrounding communities to showcase their talents and enhance the healing atmosphere of the hospital as part of the “Stages of Healing” performing arts series.
Organized by Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Micah Sickel, the series allows local performers—musicians, singers, dancers and comedians, among many other styles—to put their talents on display in the lobby of WRNMMC’s America building. Sickel, a child psychiatrist and the director of the “Stages of Healing” series, has worked in the Walter Reed Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Service since 2009.
“We basically did it to bring the performing arts to the hospital, because we felt like it’s really a vital component of a healing environment,” said Sickel. “We’ve had all sorts of performing arts here. We’ve had dance companies; we’ve had spoken word and poetry; we’ve had theater performance.”
Sickel explained that when the “Stages of Healing” performance series began in 2011, the idea was to highlight the deployment experience of many of the service members at WRNMMC. This experience was presented at that time through plays such as “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter” and “Reentry” being performed at the hospital for patients, visitors and staff.
Sickel elaborated that this early focus of the performance series helped it to develop into a broader scope: “We thought it was important both for the non-active duty—our civilians and contractors—as well as active duty to see this experience in another venue [and] to see a different telling of this experience. [‘Stages of Healing’] kind of blossomed from there.”
Sickel credited K.J. Sanchez, writer and director of “Reentry,” with the best explanation of the ultimate purpose of “Stages of Healing,” in his opinion. He said that it brings together “disparate populations” at the hospital—contractors, civilians, active duty service members, retirees—and it gathers them around a shared experience.
“And that’s really what the arts do,” said Sickel. “They bring people together around a shared experience so it propels them to dialogue on issues that may be very difficult.” He went on to say, “Arts make people think in a different manner, and I think that’s key.”
As the “Stages of Healing” performing arts series has developed, it has also become more widely-seen throughout the hospital. Today, musicians, singers, dancers, poets and many more visit WRNMMC almost every day to perform.
In the past year, performers in the “Stages of Healing” series have included the following (among others): the National Symphony Orchestra, the Wolf Trap Opera Company, Maureen Andary, Wytold, Karen Ashbrook, Ken Wenzel, Diane Monash, Torrey B, Stan Holland and DJ Diamond, Jeff Carmella and Alexander Strachan.
Billy Thompson, a blues and R&B singer/guitarist, is among the artists who perform weekly in the “Stages of Healing” series. He explained that, as the adopted son of a retired marine Lieutenant Colonel, he feels that performing is a way for him to give back to the military for its support of his family.
“This helps me kind of come full circle and give back something positive,” said Thompson. “I really do get a lot of positives. I see things [at WRNMMC] that most people should see, and I think it can bring you to another sense of self.”
Thompson elaborated that he feels the “Stages of Healing” performances help to relieve some of the natural pain and anxiety experienced by the patients and their families.
Another of the many performers featured in the performance series is Jason Masi, a singer/songwriter who draws influences from the genres of blues, pop, soul and Americana.
When asked about the healing nature of music in a hospital environment, Masi explained: “It’s a neat thing to see. As you play more and more songs, it actually does have an effect on people’s moods. For me, it’s just really rewarding. It affects my mood too. I feel better from playing music. That sentiment and that feeling kind of spread to the people I play for.”
The effects of the performing arts on mental well-being are more than just a feeling experienced by the performers though. While providing WRNMMC with a variety of art, Sickel and his department have also used the “Stages of Healing” series as a means to research the impact of arts on mental well-being.
Sickel explained that the original study involved questioning audience members about how they felt prior to and after a performance by using relatable terms such as uplifted, relaxed, inspired for positive; terrible, stressed, worried for negative; and okay, fine, neutral for neutral.
“We called the positive terms a plus one and the negative terms a minus one and then the neutral, a zero,” said Sickel. “What we found was that after 15 to 30 minutes of performance…it moved those mood states up a plus one. That’s a pretty nice result, that you don’t have to have too much exposure to one of these performances to basically feel better.”
Sickel pointed out that this study was intended to gather preliminary results for the efficacy of the concept. His department has since undertaken a more intricate study to investigate the effects of the performing arts on mental well-being by examining eight different “mood state components.”
“This is looking at music really as a therapeutic modality,” explained Sickel. “We are hypothesizing is that if you listen to music—and if it’s a kind of music that you’re in tune with—then you’re going to get something positive out of it, whether it’s just as a distractor into your busy day or if it invokes a certain memory. Whatever it is, the idea is that it will set your mind at ease, put a smile on your face or something of that nature.”
He said that by presenting the performance series, WRNMMC is able to offer patients and visitors a respite from their stresses or concerns. “If I can have someone with a significant disability or someone who’s been through a lot in life, and they’re whooping and cheering for a performance, I’m very proud of that moment. I want them to feel good about themselves. I don’t need them to go through the hospital being reminded of why they’re there.”
Sickel recalled a comment card that was submitted to the Patient Relations Department regarding the “Stages of Healing” performance series from the mother of a young patient: “Typically her daughter would receive a shot…and would be very tearful and upset for obvious reasons. The comment was how her daughter went to the nurse [after seeing a performer in the lobby] and all she could talk about while the nurse was preparing her shot was the performance and the music she had just heard.”
In the future, Sickel hopes to see a performing arts series such as “Stages of Healing” being adopted by other military treatment facilities to promote the mental well-being of their patients, visitors and staff.
“I’d like to see this incorporated into the fabric of the hospital,” said Sickel. “That would mean a lot. That would mean that we’ve made it, that we’ve been accepted.”
Sickel encouraged those who enjoy the performance series to let leadership know what kind of positives it gives to their day—whether they feel it’s a useful entity for healing or if they simply enjoy the performances as a passerby.
For more information on “Stages of Healing,” including upcoming performers or a performance schedule, contact Micah Sickel at micah.j.sickel.mil@mail.mil or the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Clinic at (301) 295-0576.