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Stress Reduction Through Music Among Active Guard Reserve Instructors

By Rita Sitney, DSW, LMSW, and Karen Slovak, PhD, LISW-S

Social worker roles in the military include administering suicide and behavioral health assessments, providing evidence-based psychological health treatment, carrying out case management tasks, advocating services for soldiers and their families, conducting research, writing policies, and managing and administering programs (Lewandowski, 2015). Given the physical, mental, and emotional issues such as stress that veterans and active-duty service members might encounter (Frone & Blais, 2019), social workers can help provide crucial clinical knowledge and expertise toward these issues. In addition, social workers are a part of an exosystem of social structures that contain resources that can influence a person’s settings. They utilize an ecological approach to engage, train, and provide knowledge to various clients and populations (Eriksson et al., 2018; Rishel, 2015).

The military work environment is diverse and complex, exposing soldiers and service members to work fatigue such as stress, which is an essential issue among soldiers in nondeployed settings and a significant employee safety and well-being problem for today’s military organizations (Frone & Blais, 2019). This is especially true for the United States Army’s Regional Training Site-Maintenance (RTS-M) locations, which provide engaging yet rigorous training environments to develop knowledgeable soldiers and leaders. Active Guard Reserve (AGR) instructors who teach at an RTS-M facility in the Midwest work in training facilities affiliated with the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, which trains and educates more than 100,000 soldiers and service members annually (Sturkol, 2020).

Empirical evidence examining occupational stressors related to military environments, specifically nondeployed settings, emphasizes the need for interventions and solutions that decrease the adverse effects of work-related stress (Hernández-Varas et al., 2019; Vojvodić et al., 2019). There is also a growing need for self-management techniques such as music listening to address stress symptoms in veterans and active military soldiers (Zoteyeva et al., 2016). Depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and an absence of personal accomplishments are factors associated with persistent exposure to environmental and situational stressors of work-related stress (Khamisa et al., 2015). Music can be a great personal resource and an effective self-management strategy for handling and improving stress. In addition, social workers can be excellent professional resources for helping military organizations and soldiers understand the importance of music listening.

The Use of Music for Stress Reduction
The principal benefit of music listening is to manage emotions. According to various studies, music listening is steadily acknowledged as an effective treatment modality for controlling emotional stress and enhancing well-being (Blais-Rochette & Miranda, 2016; Chin & Rickard, 2014; Silverman, 2019). Additionally, a literature review on music therapy used in the military population suggests that the effects of music listening appear promising for military members, yet more is needed to establish that the complex needs of military members are sufficiently met (Gooding & Langston, 2019).

According to Landis-Shack and colleagues, “musical improvisation, listening exercises, singing, music-making, the playing of an instrument, and a discussion of the emotions conveyed through a piece of music heard by the patient” are all music therapy methods that clinicians can incorporate in treatment plans. Since AGR instructors work in more rigid and rule-based environments that facilitate stress, social workers, mental health professionals, and therapists can help implement music listening for self-care for AGR instructors by developing relationships with and providing mental health resources to RTS-M facilities. This interaction can initiate a regular flow of using licensed professionals such as social workers in military organizations to develop healthy self-care techniques to reduce stress with AGR instructors at an RTS-M and infuse positive lifestyle management of emotional health across other military entities.

To further study this issue among military instructors and the role of social work, I conducted a study to investigate the role of music listening as a way to practice self-care for these instructors. This research employed qualitative in-depth interviews with soldiers at an RTS-M facility and social workers at various sites. Supporting themes in the study such as professional resources, command support, and standard operating procedures revealed helpful strategies toward implementing self-managed music listening for stress reduction.

Music can be used as a tool for emotional regulation and is positively associated with increased emotional arousal and decreasing negative responses. In the military population, music therapy treatment is gradually being employed to promote health, improve quality of life, and enhance emotional functioning in military members. However, as revealed in the study, a soldier’s understanding of the correct way to use music for emotional regulation is paramount. According to one instructor interviewed at the regional training site, “Music is available everywhere, and we listen to the music all the time. Instructors will not be focusing on using music as a therapy because music is always readily available. Education or formal guidance like how to utilize that thing as to self-care is the most important part.”

Implementation Strategies
Social workers providing services to the military population can utilize the following resources to encourage music listening for self-care in military organizations:

  • Professional resources: Using external resources including licensed social workers, mental health professionals, or therapists to administer informational sessions and education for supervisors, managers, and employees on self-care methods and how to use music for stress reduction. This establishes trust and acceptance in professional sources.
  • Command support: Developing a small working group with front-line supervisory staff and managers to ensure that they understand, can communicate about, and support the changes necessary to enforce self-managed music listening. This helps to ensure a seamless transition toward implementing change.
  • Standard operating procedures: Consulting with stakeholders within the organization to establish a shared understanding concerning the importance of music listening policies and procedures. This will ensure policies and practices are realistic and actionable.

— Rita Sitney, DSW, LMSW, is a senior operations manager in the United States Army. Sitney is currently active duty and has served more than 20 years in the service. Sitney has a passion for and dedication to improving soldier mental health.

— Karen Slovak, PhD, LISW-S, is a professor in the DSW program at Capella University. She has more than 23 years of teaching experience in social work education across the BSW, MSW, and DSW program levels.


Blais-Rochette, C., & Miranda, D. (2016). Music-evoked autobiographical memories, emotion regulation, time perspective, and mental health. Musicae Scientiae, 20(1), 26-52.

Chin, T., & Rickard, N. (2014). Emotion regulation strategy mediates both positive and negative relationships between music uses and well-being. Psychology of Music, 42(5), 692-713.

Eriksson, M., Ghazinour, M., & Hammarström, A. (2018). Different uses of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory in public mental health research: What is their value for guiding public mental health policy and practice? Social Theory & Health, 16, 414-433.

Frone, M. R., & Blais, A. (2019). Work fatigue in a non-deployed military setting: Assessment, prevalence, predictors, and outcomes. International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health, 16(16), 2892.

Gooding, L. F., & Langston, D. G. (2019). Music therapy with military populations: A scoping review. Journal of Music Therapy, 56(4), 315-347.

Hernández-Varas, E., Encinas, F. J., & Suárez, M. M. (2019). Psychological capital, work satisfaction and health self-perception as predictors of psychological wellbeing in military personnel. Psicothema, 31(3), 277-283.

Khamisa, N., Oldenburg, B., Peltzer, K., & Ilic, D. (2015). Work related stress, burnout, job satisfaction and general health of nurses. International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health, 12, 652-666.

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Rishel, C. W. (2015). Establishing a prevention-focused integrative approach to social work practice. The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 96(2), 125-132.

Silverman, M. J. (2019). Music-based emotion regulation and healthy and unhealthy music use predict coping strategies in adults with substance use disorder: A cross sectional study. Psychology of Music, 1-18.

Sturkol, S. (2020, July 24). Full training schedule returns to Fort McCoy's RTS-Maintenance. U.S. Army. https://www.army.mil/article/237547/full_training_schedule_returns_to_fort_mccoys_

Vojvodić, A. R., Dedić, G., & Dejanović, S. D. (2019). Defense mechanisms and quality of life in military personnel with a burnout syndrome. Vojnosanit Pregl, 76(3), 298-306.

Zoteyeva, V., Forbes, D., & Rickard, N. S. (2016). Military veterans’ use of music-based emotion regulation for managing mental health issues. Psychology of Music, 44(3), 307-323.