The harp gives forth murmuring music; and the dance goes on without hands and feet.” Kabir (1480-1518)
The harp has been known as a therapeutic instrument for thousands of years: it was used for healing in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Ireland. According to the Bible, the future King David soothed Saul’s troubled soul 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) Also, as Sarajane Williams points out, the harp’s mythical status as a healing instrument contributes to its therapeutic quality:
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.¹Sarajane Williams, Good Vibrations
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.
What is Harp Therapy?
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.
A typical Harp Therapy session involves live harp music specially chosen for that individual at that moment to effect beneficial change in their physical, emotional, mental or spiritual state. The music may consist of familiar favourites, or it may be improvised there and then. People come for a Harp Therapy session for a variety of reasons. These include physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain, illness, anxiety, depression and fatigue. Some clients use it for meditation or as a means of inspiring creativity or problem solving. Some come from curiosity or simply because they love the harp. All are welcome.
My own interest in Harp Therapy came about because I have been 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 Therapy Harp Training Programme (THTP).
I play therapeutic harp sessions for individuals in person at my studio and online. I also play music in anxiety-triggering environments, such as hospitals, prisons and in care homes, as well as for healing sessions, meditation groups and yoga classes.
1,Williams, Sarajane Good Vibrations: Principles of Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy, 2005, page 74