August 2016 Newsletter Article – Alison Ware

“Theraputic Harp” by Alison Ware

For the past nine years I have developed an integrated therapeutic harp service in Canberra.
It is my fulltime profession and I currently work at Canberra Hospital, the hospice and privately as a contractor for healthcare organisations. I also work as a private mentor and
supervisor for the Therapeutic Harp intern program based at Canberra Hospital – the first one in Australia!
When I first started to learn the harp I was in my late 30s. I could never have envisaged where that first harp lesson would take me. Therapeutic Harp has become my passion, my vocation and I am excited about this growing field.

I had always wanted to learn the harp when I was younger however, never really had the opportunity. One day a chance came to attend a “Try the harp workshop” in the Blue Mountains. I loved it! I came back to Canberra, rented a harp and slowly began learning to play. Since beginning my harp journey I have had wonderful teachers including Alice Giles, Sarah Deere-Jones, Stella Benson, Tegan Peemoeller, Deborah Henson Conant and many more.
In 2007 one of the pioneers of harp therapy Stella Benson visited Sydney offering an introduction to Harp therapy. I attended and it was then I sensed that this was the work I wanted to pursue. I now had a focus for my harp lessons and a new career began.
I now have qualifications in therapeutic harp, clinical musicianship, counselling, spiritual care, nursing and in 2014 was ordained as an Interfaith minister. All my qualifications are invaluable in providing a unique integrated program.

Many people ask me what exactly does a therapeutic harpist do?
As a snapshot of the week just gone, I played my harp for patients who were anxious or depressed. I played for elderly patients diagnosed with dementia. I attended vigils playing for people actively dying in a difficult time of transition. I played for acutely ill people in pain who hadn’t been able to sleep, patients waiting for surgery and chemotherapy and staff members whose days are so busy and stressful that gentle music helped in their daily round.
I played in postnatal helping mums celebrate the birth of their new babies and in antenatal where mums were on bedrest waiting for the arrival of their babies. So many situations. It’s truly privileged work.

So basically, a therapeutic harpist offers live harp music in healthcare, hospice and the community. The music is offered at the bedside to match and support the immediate needs of a patient/client.

There is no specific repertoire, desired outcome or requirement of the patient. During a visit a person may choose to listen, talk, sleep or rest while I listen, observe and respond to whatever is beneficial for the patient at that time.
Therefore, each patient and visit will be unique. The emphasis is on service and is patient focused.
Music is usually memorised and often improvised and adjusted at the bedside. We prefer not to use a music stand as this clearly allows us to focus on the patient. We use both familiar and unfamiliar music. The tempo, rhythm, and key are adjusted to benefit the person or situation we are playing for. It is a fluid process.
In my experience the use of the harp in healthcare lies in the healing arts rather than being performance or entertainment based. The music is simple and the more unwell someone is the less complicated the music offered. Practitioners actively observe the patient’s breathing; body movements, facial expressions and comments to tailor the music to the patient’s immediate needs and see if what we are playing is appropriate.

Typically, a patient will take a deep breath, relax into their bed or chair and look outwards and beyond to the window or into the distance. A restless patient will quieten down, a tired patient will sleep, a grieving patient will cry. As Therapeutic Harpists we are trained to play music based on what we observe and ascertain from the patient and environment around us.

It also is a very personal service in that we really bring ourselves to the bedside-how we express and offer music, build connection, and adapt our music all place us firmly in the healing arts. I may see a person once or journey along with them for their full hospital stay before either being discharged or I am may continue seeing them at hospice.

It has been well documented that music can enhance a patient’s hospital stay and transform healthcare environments. The harp is an ancient instrument and is traditionally associated with healing. Harp music can beautify hospital institutions and humanize the way it is experienced.

I am looking forward to developing my service in the future. I have many goals and dreams to pursue including finishing my studies in Art Therapy.
I always encourage people to follow their dreams. It is never too late to begin learning an instrument for enjoyment or find a new rewarding career.
For more information on my service please visit  www.therapeuticharpaustralia.com.

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