Harp Therapy for Addiction
The Healing Power of Music
I started playing piano in third grade. I fell in love with it because my aunt had played, and I had heard her several times on our family visits. I watched her graceful fingers glide over the ivory-colored keys. The instrument itself was so majestic and beautiful. She had Kawai Piano and the wood was so smooth and beautiful. Not only does piano have a beautiful sound, but it was also a tactile experience. The wood even had the best smell to it.
Her playing put me in a state of wonder. Looking at her dense music, I couldn’t believe she was able to read and make sense of what was going on and produce such a beautiful song. I felt playing at her level was something I’d never be able to do.
Childhood and the Power of Music
Playing with one hand seemed impossible, two hands seemed out of the question. I didn’t care though. I aspired to play piano like my aunt. I convinced my parents to let me take piano lessons. They agreed but made me promise that I’d practice every day for a half hour. Every day I played for a half hour.
Sometimes more. I started with a small keyboard and eventually my parents could see that I was serious and bought me a piano. Not a Kawai, but one that was nice enough, and most importantly cheap. Soon I found myself playing with one hand, then gradually two.
My teacher kept me on as a student at a time when she was getting rid of other students because she saw my drive and talent. She saw an intensity in me. She saw my passion and love for music. Sometimes if I really loved a song I could learn it really fast. It was because I could feel it.
What Is Harp Therapy?
Flash forward about twenty years, the only thing I was playing was with heroin. I was close to losing everything. I hadn’t thought of playing an instrument in years. I was numb to any sort of pleasure except for heroin. My partner of over 10 years was concerned. Finally, after a series of events I ended up in a recovery program at South Shores Recovery and was introduced to the concept of harp therapy.
As part of my recovery I had a therapist who recommended musical therapy as a part of my aftercare planning. I refused to do anything with piano or singing and she suggested I try harp therapy, since I seemed to enjoy hearing others participate at South Shores.
It was something I had never done before. I didn’t think much of it, but I mentioned it later to my husband. The seeds were planted without me knowing it and my husband went into action finding me a harp therapist as part of my continuing recovery.
I came home after a noon meeting one day to find a lady with a harp in my living room. My husband smiled – he could see I was surprised, but in a pleasant way. He had given me the gift of recovery through music in harp therapy. Why not piano? Because I had said again and again that I would never play again after not getting into Julliard.
A Brief History of Harp Therapy
Harps date back through time to the Egyptians and many other early cultures. They were used, like singing, to calm babies, and for other illnesses. It’s believed that harps have a power to heal and/or energize people. This was certainly true in my case. My husband gave me the gift of a therapy program where I would get hands-on experience learning how to play the harp.
It was an invitation for me to find music again with one of the most beautiful and healing instruments ever, the harp. You might be asking yourself how this was helpful in my recovery. Doing harp therapy was important to me because of who I am at the core. I am someone who is deeply healed by music. Harp therapy contributed to my recovery.
Harp Therapy as an Evidence-Based Practice
An NIH study on the effects of music therapy during the recovery process found that those who had music therapy found higher levels of motivation and provided a chance to improve their skills and locus of control. I found this to be entirely true myself. One of the hardest things about going through the recovery program at South Shores was regaining my sense of control. I had felt out of control for so long and used heroin for such a long time to gain that sense of control.
Now I had to learn techniques to find out that I was capable of having a sense of control myself. I didn’t need any substance to feel that way. I needed to know that if I sat down and worked on something I would make a sound. I needed to know that if I sat down and working on something I would make progress.
The Benefits of Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy
Imagine hearing music playing that you felt so deeply that it vibrated into your body and felt like a massage, imagine the type of healing you can achieve from that. There is a special kind of harp therapy called Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy. The harp music is played and the vibration is sent through a special chair where you can feel the vibrations of the music. I tried it once and my body felt so relaxed I could have melted. Years of anxiety were shaved off of me and I felt like I had access to joy in ways I hadn’t felt before.
The musical vibrations run throughout your entire body, helping you to access feelings in places that were previously shut off. If you have an opportunity I highly suggest trying this or finding out more information about this type of therapy. It not only made me feel more connected to my own body, it made me feel connected to humanity.
Harp Therapy has helped me to see outside of my recovery process and how everything fits together. It helped me to understand how I could progress and most importantly the progress I had already made.
Conditions that Benefit from Harp Therapy
Recovering from addiction isn’t the only condition that can benefit from Harp Therapy. There are multiple studies that show musical therapy is effective at helping improve conditions such as chronic pain, depression and anxiety. A study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found Harp Therapy to alleviate symptoms of pain, anxiety, fatigue, sadness in 30-50% of patients. Those symptoms were all ones I experienced when going through recovery.
I felt tired a lot, I didn’t realize how much energy would go into the recovery process, then the process of living my life sober. Harp Therapy was a place where my emotions could escape and make sense. I could see purpose in the emotions that had in the past disabled me. Minor keys were there because after a while they led to the major keys, and the uplifting chords. Listening to music helped me to understand how all emotions serve a purpose, and how all emotions can be helpful in recovery.
Harp Therapy for Addiction Treatment
Harp therapy wasn’t the only thing I used in my recovery at SSR. I had a full program of all the essentials and more at South Shores Recovery, a team and a community of people that were helping me. I joined a local NA group. I had an individual therapist. I also am lucky enough to have a supportive family and a group of supportive friends I can trust. They all helped me in my path to recovery and my ongoing path to stay sober.
Even if you don’t have anyone though, the people I met through South Shore Recovery were like family to me. They are people that are still in my life. I have shared my love of music and Harp Therapy has been a gateway for many others to learn how music can heal.
Find the Theme Music for Your Recovery at South Shores
I wouldn’t suggest to anyone that only one thing works. I think it’s a variety of things and it is different for each individual depending on where they are in their own process. But I think Harp Therapy was effective for me because it helped me to tap into some of the core issues that had led to my addiction. Although I was connected to music already from years of piano, I think it could be effective for anyone who is in the process of recovery. In addition to the amazing staff at South Shore Recovery and the healing power of music I was able to kick my heroin habit and start living again.
Now, as I write this, I have started playing music again and I hope someday to give back in the way that I have received healing through music. I know how powerful it can be. The power of music transformed my life. It gave me hope and wild when I was a child and it gave it to me again as an adult. It made me realize that we are always being born again into a new challenge, new time, new person. I feel lucky that I found the support I needed to keep moving and transforming to my full potential.