JACKSON, Wyo. — Working in healthcare today can be extremely stressful for the individuals who devote their professional lives to the care of others.

Following the global pandemic, care providers have faced unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, contributing to the exodus of thousands of people away from the health professions.  Fortunately, there are innovative programs being introduced to help health providers heal and reconnect to their callings in health care. In Wyoming, music therapist Hilary Camino recently led such a program to aid her colleagues at St. John’s Health in  Jackson Hole. 

Thanks to a grant from the Wyoming Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, Camino, a board-certified neurologic music therapist, recently introduced an innovative therapeutic songwriting program to several employee groups on the St. John’s Health team. “The passage of time since the peak of the pandemic has allowed a pause for our staff to contemplate what they have experienced and to reset,” said Camino. “Therapeutic songwriting is an excellent tool for healing  burnout and working through complex feelings.” 

Although one of her regular roles is working with senior care residents at St. John’s Health Sage Living, Camino is also now delivering the benefits of music therapy to her colleagues across the entire health system: the nurses, physical therapists,  administrators, and others who serve St. John’s residents and patients. “Therapeutic songwriting allows one to process emotions and memories in a healthy way in a group setting, facilitating the creation of a shared story while preventing feelings of isolation,” explained Camino. 

“Is this forever

I don’t think I’m getting better

Knights in cotton threaded blue

Trusting you is all I can do.”

The chorus above was written by one of the three therapeutic songwriting groups with whom Camino worked, from the perspective of a patient. The loss of control, the handing over of health and life to a care provider, and the unknowns of the future.  This group looked outside of their own caregiver experiences to focus on what is being felt on the other side of the stethoscope. The process helped bring healing and a renewed sense of purpose and empathy. 

Photo: St. John’s Health

Camino’s songwriting process involves asking questions, sharing stories, developing common themes and ultimately getting pen to paper to write down thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Paramount in songwriting, “object writing” is an effective tool the groups used to create imagery by writing about a concrete object using each of their senses. One nurse described her facemask as preventing more than spreading germs; in addition, the facemask served as an emotion concealer during breaking points.  Another group focused on the motions of walking through the hospital hallways. This imagery proved to be a good way to introduce the other group members to each person’s individual workday experience. From there, a word or a theme or chorus emerged. During the sessions, Camino, with a guitar in her lap, would play chords and chord progressions, inviting others to sing or play their own instrument and inviting improvisation with a jam session vibe.

“In order to take the best care possible of patients, we know we need to take the best care possible of our staff,” said St. John’s Heath communications officer Karen Connelly. “The willingness of staff to be open to this experience with Hilary, along with Hilary’s incredible talent and expertise, led to a really beautiful outcome.”

“We believe that programs like this can help rebuild the strength of our nation’s healthcare workforce,” said Camino. “My hope is that our program will inspire other organizations that operate in stressful environments to also look to the arts for healing and resilience.”

Music from Hilary Camino’s work with healthcare workers from St. John’s Health is available on many streaming platforms by searching for “Hilary Camino Golden Thread.” Listen on SpotifyApple MusicYouTube.