The historical and archetypal significance of the harp as an ancient, spiritually healing instrument opens many doors to the personal and collective unconscious and may thereby facilitate the healing process.¹
The harp has a long history as a therapeutic instrument: it was used for healing in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Ireland. Indeed, the future King David soothed Saul’s soul (try saying that quickly) with his harp. The harp’s status as a healing instrument can be attributed to several factors, including its particularly resonant sound and pure harmonics, its wide pitch range (which maximises available frequencies) and its long decay (which gives the frequencies time to do their work). It is not surprising, therefore, that there are a number of currently available programmes intended to train therapeutic harp practitioners to serve in modern clinical settings, such as hospitals, hospices and private practice.
The harp is used in clinical settings in two main ways: first, its music affects change by the process of entrainment – for example, the listener’s breath or heart rate slows to match the music, or their emotions shift to the mood of the piece. The second way is known as Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy. This involves applying specific frequencies from the harp directly to the desired part of the body via speakers installed in a vibroacoustic table or chair. In both, the harp player tunes in to the needs of the patient and then plays whatever is needed to produce a beneficial change in their physical, emotional, mental or spiritual state.
My own interest in Harp Therapy came about because I am a professional harpist and a qualified sound healer. I have played in healthcare settings over the years and I’ve witnessed some strong therapeutic reactions to the harp: I’ve seen previously non-responsive dementia patients come alive at the sound of an old favourite tune and I’ve seen the calming spell the music wove in a children’s intensive care ward. Eventually, I decided to formally train as a Certified Healthcare Musician with the International Harp Therapy Programme.
I offer Harp Therapy sessions for individuals in person at my studio and online. I also play music for healing sessions, meditation groups and yoga classes and in anxiety-triggering environments, such as hospitals, prisons and in care homes. I have devised a therapeutic harp session based on the Ancient Irish tradition of the three strains of healing music – sadness, joy and peace – and I am currently experimenting with the astrological therapeutic music of Marsilio Ficino.
¹Williams, Sarajane Good Vibrations: Principles of Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy, 2005, page 15