Therapeutic Harp Music

Connecticut now has a unique and deeply therapeutic musical intervention: Therapeutic Harp Music, as delivered by psychologist and Certified Music Practitioner, Marcie Swift. Imagine yourself lying on a massage table, being soothed and healed by the ancient and therapeutic sound and vibrations of the Celtic harp. Whether pain, stress, insomnia, depression or illness is your concern, or if you simply need a special musical sanctuary to soothe each molecule of your being with comfort and bliss, you will enjoy harp therapy as the ultimate musical massage. As you feel each muscle in your body relax with the soothing notes, a gentle voice speaks in images that heal and embrace you with healthy energy. Swift combines relaxation therapy, guided imagery, and meditation along with the gift of healing harp music.

Studies show that harp therapy can equalize and slow down brain waves; affect respiration, heartbeat, and pulse; reduce muscle tension; and improve body movement. Premature babies who have received harp therapy are able to drink more of their mother’s milk and gain weight more rapidly, resulting in earlier departure times from the hospital. Harp therapy increases endorphin levels, regulates stress-related hormones, boosts the immune system, and stimulates digestion and the overall feeling of well-being.
Therapeutic musicians help to create a relaxed, healing environment through live music, which studies find to be even more effective than recorded music.

A recent client remarked that therapeutic harp “soothed away chronic pains in my legs, and helped create deeper sleep and relaxation.” Having suffered from insomnia for years, and having kept her husband awake, too, as a result, Swift taught the patient specific breathing and relaxation exercises coupled with therapeutic harp music. Later the patient was given a special CD to be played before sleep. The intervention worked, and the patient commented,” I was amazed at how quickly and deeply I was able to sleep. My husband is relieved!”

Throughout the ages the healing power of harp music has been documented through art, religion, and literature. The harp is one of the most ancient instruments and known for its gentle and soothing sound. In the Bible, the shepherd David was asked to play his harp for King Saul to soothe him of his rages and despair.

Currently, healing music is being utilized in spas, hospitals, hospice care, nurseries, cancer clinics, and operating rooms with profound results. We are fortunate to have in the Berkshires this unique and transformative intervention.

Marcie Swift was trained through the Music for Healing and Transition Program, where she learned to improvise on modes, scales and chord progressions, according to patient needs. Swift often extends or adapts musical pieces to differing rhythm, meter and tempo, depending upon the patient’s condition. Often she creates her own music. “Each patient presents the opportunity to create a musical collage completely spontaneously, making the work even more interesting.”

Swift mentions, “I was initially somewhat skeptical when learning of the impact of therapeutic harp upon patients. During my internship at a local hospital, I conducted research with hip replacement patients, immediately following surgery. Before playing my harp, patients reported stress and pain levels of 9 and 10, on a scale of 1 to 10. Following ten minutes of harp therapy, all patients reported stress and pain levels down to 0, 1 and 2. I knew then that I was on the right track.”

Harp therapy and meditation can be used with children, adolescents, and adults quite effectively. Swift described an eight year old bundle of energy, “Sean,” who was both ADHD and highly anxious. His parents complained that he never rested and never slept. Unusually receptive to music, they asked if harp therapy might be helpful. “After speaking with the parents, I met Sean and did an in-depth clinical interview. He confided in me, ‘My parents are trying to figure out how to take care of me!’ Sean had a lot of guilt and poor image around being seen as a trouble-maker and problem both at school and at home. His parents were exhausted and his teacher exasperated. We started to discuss special images like lying on the beach at his grandmother’s house in Florida, and petting Oscar, the Labrador retriever. I was able to tuck in some mildly hypnotic suggestions along with soothing images, accompanied by specifically designed harp melody and rhythm, and was able to induce complete relaxation and restfulness. Sean actually fell asleep the first time we did this. He came back for several sessions, and then I designed a special CD for him alone. He used the images and music before sleep and rehearsed them in his mind when he began to feel anxious and restless at school. His parents reported a dramatic change not only in his ability to sleep, but in his focus and ability to hold still and attend, both at home and at school. This is a child who was not responsive to medications and had a poor outcome with traditional psychotherapy. His parents became more positive and continued working with me on parenting issues, and the tension and despair in the home dramatically lessened.”

Another client was a woman in her twenties with anxiety and eating disorders. A ballerina, she was driven to perfection by parents who were loving but anxious and demanding themselves. Both were highly successful in their own careers and held great expectations for their only child. But as the pressures of school and ballet studies mounted and decisions about college vs. ballet companies loomed ahead, Julia’s perfectionism and stress mounted. She came to Swift after being told by her fourth psychiatrist that she might require hospitalization. Swift worked with Julia around issues of self-image and expectations, and intervened with the parents, too. But her sessions were also coupled with intense relaxation and harp therapy, with music designed to bring deep comfort and healing to the negative voices within Julia. Julia and her parents were surprised at how quickly the crisis calmed. She went on to college and lives a life free of her destructive demons. Julia herself mentioned that “My other therapists gave me homework, and used cognitive behavioral interventions. I felt resistant to that–it made me feel even more pressure. Marcie taught me how to relax and be myself at the same time. I have a better sense of my own self and my own boundaries now. I still can hear the harp music and guided imagery in my head when I feel stressed out.”

Swift related another story of a man in his thirties who decided to attend dental school. He had been a successful student in high school and undergraduate work, but the increased demands for performance and long hours of schooling and homework at the graduate level left him frantic. He found himself freezing before taking exams, his mind going blank. By the time he called Swift, he had repeated two years of dental school and was close to being dismissed from the program. “This wonderfully tenacious fellow had persevered more than most students around him, yet was caught in cycle of panic about his performance. We began by desensitizing him to test-taking with a wide range of creative visualizations, meditations, and relaxation therapy, interspersed with soothing, flowing harp therapy. Chris was highly responsive after the very first session. ‘I took control back of my studies with this help—just when I was giving up hope. I needed to find a way to calm my fears and capitalize on my strengths, and this did it for me. I stopped obsessing and was able to focus and concentrate.’ ”

Another recent client, Sharon, was a sixty-two year old woman whose husband was seriously ill with cancer and requiring considerable care at home. She had stopped doing the normal activities that usually calmed and nourished her, such as working out at the gym and having lunch with friends. She had lost weight and was having trouble sleeping. Her daughter bought her a session of harp therapy for Christmas, so that she might find a private space to relax and refuel. At the end of the session Sharon commented, “Oh, I didn’t think I could relax like that ever again, I feel so blissful and soothed and comforted…I just didn’t want you to ever stop playing for me! I am coming back next week. This is too important.”