Few areas of the harp world have seen the rapid growth that harp therapy has enjoyed in the last decade. In fact, the field is so new and has developed so quickly that there is some confusion even among harpists about what exactly harp therapy is and what musicians do in this field exploding in popularity.
Lever harpists largely spearheaded the harp therapy movement, and the majority of its practitioners today are lever harpists or come from a folk music background. But more and more classically trained pedal harpists are venturing into harp therapy, leaving their big instruments at home and playing on small lever harps that are easier to move, simpler to sanitize, and less intrusive in medical facilities.
First, it’s important to understand the difference between “music therapy” and “harp therapy” or “therapeutic music.” Music therapy is a very distinct science, rooted in psychology, physical therapy, and interactive music. A music therapist must have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited school to practice. Their work involves using music interactively with patients for various therapeutic applications, such as recovery of motor skills from an accident, treatment of dementia, easement of pain, etc. The therapy can be active or passive, and could include having the patient play simple drumming patterns, improvise on various simple instruments, sing, or just listen. Music therapists work in a wide range of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric facilities, substance abuse programs, neo-natal care facilities and the like. It’s a bit of a generalization, but music therapy tends to be more interactive rather than passive, actually engaging the patient by getting them to do something with an instrument or their voice.