The therapy harp and the harp circle

My clients often expect me to turn up with a large harp, the sort of harp you see in an orchestra, they are often wondering how I’m going to get it in the building, and they are surprised when I arrive with my small therapy harps.  Many people have not seen this type of harp before.

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Therapy harps are very different to the orchestral harp.  The concert harps have seven pedals around the bottom that are used to change the key so players need very good hand and foot co-ordination.  It means they have more scope to play tunes in different keys, but they’re not practical for my type of work.

The therapy harp has been around since the 1970s, and is basically a small harp, and can be called a small harp or a lap harp or a therapy harp, it’s basically the same thing.  Some of them have levers at the top which enables the player to change the key.

The therapy harp is light weight and can be worn with a strap which enables the harp to be played while walking around, which is perfect for bringing music to people in a large lounge especially if they may have visual or hearing impairments.

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A colleague in the therapeutic harp community from America plays using a strap and walks around hospital corridors allowing the live harp music to float into many rooms and nursing stations, bringing the music to more people.  The music changes the atmosphere and can bring a bit of release to patients and loved ones dealing with hospital admission and treatment.

Such light weight harps can be played in bed, in wheelchairs and on the floor, so they are really accessible and the way of playing can be adapted to meet the clients physical abilities.  Playing the harp on the floor works really well with young children, and playing in bed is great for anyone that is unable to get out of bed.

These harps are ideal for harp circles too, where a group of people create music together.  I have a choice of straps and knee sticks to stabilise the harp, so players in my harp circles can choose how they would like to position the harp in the way that is most comfortable for them.

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The harp rests on the shoulder and is either supported by the strap of the knee stick, it’s light and allows the player to easily reach all the notes on the harp.

Harp circles are inclusive, they enable participants to be able to do one little part and be part of a whole group making music.  They are uplifting, enjoyable and accessible allowing everyone to take part in some way regardless of challenges or ability.

Harp playing can relax, energise and sooth and can contribute to healing for the youngest of children to the oldest of adults.  Music releases emotional pain, increases interaction, builds self esteem, improves short term memory and attention span, and relieves stress.

Harp circles allow people to enjoy making music, there is no right or wrong way, and we are all musical, there is no wrong note.  Harp circles can incorporate different goals, somebody who has just had a stroke and is able to get their hand to the harp and play a note has achieved.  Somebody who has a brain injury and is able to concentrate and take part in the group is successful.

Everybody has different goals and outcomes, but everybody plays a little bit and we create a whole tune together.

Please get in touch to discuss your clients’ requirements.

 

 

Going viral – the dark side of occupation

My second blog post What is occupational therapy? has been viewed nearly 40,000 times, and shared on Facebook about 20,000 times.  This caught me completely unaware and still continues to amaze me because there are so many blogs out there waiting to be read.

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This website shows live internet activity stats, as I write this 2,963,172 blog posts have been written today and it’s nearly 3pm.  You can see the number of internet users, the number of tweets sent, google searches and the number of Facebook users.  It’s mind boggling!  We really are spending a lot of time doing online occupations.

Our occupations are pretty much always seen as positive and good for health and well being, but ‘The Dark Side of Occupation’ is a concept created and being developed by Dr Rebecca Twinley.  Find out more here.  There are occupations that can be considered not so good for you for various reasons, graffiti for example is a crime, and drinking and drug taking in excess are bad for health.  My experience of going viral lead me to consider the benefits and difficulties of doing so, and I started to reflect on the downside of going viral as the dark side of occupation.

So when my blog went viral I was pretty much ecstatic, lots and lots of people were reading my blog post, which was only my second post and had sat alone and unread for about three weeks.  It made me feel elated, people liked what I had written, people related to how I had described occupational therapy.  Somebody at New Zealand OT Insight magazine asked me if they could publish it.  Shoshanah Shear asked me to guest blog, and Michael Iwama of the Kawa Model liked it too.  Occupational therapists from all over the world were contacting me, and others who weren’t related to the profession.  Suddenly I was a somebody in occupational therapy, I was contributing, commenting and collaborating with the global occupational therapy community.

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Fantastic?  Well this is where the dark side comes in.  As somebody living with and beyond cancer I need to be reducing stress in my life.  I need to be investing time and effort in sleeping well and relaxing.  I need a work life balance and I need to prioritise things that keep me well, like exercise, cooking healthy meals, mindfulness and my hobbies.  All these things enable my parasympathetic nervous system to do it’s thing and heal and repair my body, and allow my killer cells to go after cancer cells in my body.

I was new to posting on social media, and wasn’t quite ready for the world to know about my cancer diagnosis.  (Yes I know I had written about having cancer, but it took a while to click the publish button, my finger hovered over it for some time before I published and I never expected so many people to read it!).  I also wasn’t ready to do so much public commenting, I was just building up gently to having an online presence.

So going viral wasn’t always a positive and productive experience for me.  First I had to stress out about if I had actually gone viral or not.  What figure equaled viral status?  It seems there is no number, if very few people were reading a blog and then thousands were that constituted going viral.

Then I had people contacting me on all manner of platforms: email, messenger, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blog comments, I had to manage this daily and keep track of it all and reply to people.  This was time consuming, and difficult to manage.  It wasn’t productive as I’m in the process of setting up a little local business, and correspondence from all over the world wasn’t going to make me any money!  Yet the compelling intrinsic motivation to correspond and use this platform to try and promote occupational therapy further was driving me.  This drive dominated over any of the activities and routines I needed to do to keep myself well, and obtain local business to make a living.

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I wasn’t sleeping, watching my blog stats go up became an obsession.  I just wasn’t present, and I was being mindless, not mindful, I was stuck in the virtual world. On the busiest day one person was viewing my blog every ten seconds.  I kept checking the stats, staring at my screen, it was like watching the figures go up on a really popular government petition.  As people in the UK started to go offline and to sleep, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders would come online.  So I’d go on checking my stats late into the night and throughout the night if I woke up.  This practice did not promote sleep, and really upset my sleep pattern, which is not good for my immune system.

Going viral was a buzz, I cannot say it wasn’t, but it did not lead to good health and well being, so my experience of going viral was definitely an insight for me to the dark side of occupation.

Although we all put things out there wanting them to be seen, ‘liked’, shared and read nothing can really prepare us for when they become popular, take off and cannot be reined in.

But don’t worry, carry on reading this and sharing it, I’m prepared now.  Going viral again cannot compare to the soaring feeling and obsession of it happening the first time.

 

Cancer and the art of relaxation with sound

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During my cancer diagnosis and treatment it became apparent how important relaxing was and that this was as important to recovery as sleep, exercise and good nutrition. I thought maybe people going through this scary and uncertain time would benefit from being able to take part in harp circles. Harp circles allow groups to play and create music together without having to express anything with words.  There is not much creativity or soothing sounds in cancer treatment so a harp circle would fill this gap nicely.   I also thought that sound could promote relaxation, and be a medium to put people in a relaxed and restful state.

As an occupational therapist I believe that activities such as sleeping and relaxing are occupations that we need to invest time and energy in.  If I don’t have a good night’s sleep my next day is not going to go as planned or probably be very productive.  I’ll probably talk myself out of doing any exercise as I’m ‘too tired’ or because ‘I need to conserve my energy’.  I will probably have a slump in the afternoon and struggle to focus on my tasks and be guided by my mind and body to take a nap.

As somebody who used to prioritise chores over relaxation I know how difficult it can be to devote time to essentially switching off and doing nothing.  There’s a pile of washing up, and ironing, there’s a really long shopping list waiting and don’t mention what needs doing in the garden……

Relaxation is so important to heal and repair, and allow the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and relax the body and give us some respite.  Nowadays we seem to be on constant alert, always ready to respond, we always have incoming ‘stuff’ to deal with.  The post, the landline, fax (anybody still have one of these?) mobile phone, email, text messages, and goodness knows how many apps we can receive messages or updates from.

I’m currently training as a sound therapist so I can offer people sound baths and gong baths.  People come along for about an hour bringing with them a mat, pillow and blanket so they can create a nest of comfort, lie down and ‘bathe’ in the sounds.  I play a relaxing score on gongs, and bowls, crystal bowls and some percussion.  During this time people are able to relax, the parasympathetic nervous system will be in a rested state so enable us to rest, relax and repair.  I’ve found the training very beneficial, it’s helped me to slow down,enjoy creating the sounds and be mindful while I do it and playing the gong, and the various bowls is a relaxing occupation.

So I plan to invite you soon to come along, and escape from your technology for an hour and invest some time and effort into the forgotten occupation of relaxation.

More about gongs and sound baths soon, in the meantime if you curious please check out this article in the Huffington Post about why every stressed out person should try a bit of gong.

 

 

Music really is powerful stuff

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Music is all around us and a part of daily life, whether we choose to listen to it or come across it playing in shops or restaurants that we visit. Prehistoric humans had music in their lives despite it not being essential for survival like hunting and shelter. Old bone flutes and many cave paintings of instruments from prehistoric times have been found around the world.

Occupational therapy is all about the art and science of living, what we do makes us who we are and music has a lot of meaning to us. We can self regulate by using music so if we need to do household chores we may put on something fast and upbeat, if we want to relax or go to sleep we may play something soothing and slow.

Music is also used to distract ourselves, for example when you are kept on hold on the phone or when waiting in a surgery there is often background music playing.

Music can also serve as company for us, at work, at home and in the car. It gives us an identity through our record collections and our spotify feed. It often helps to bring memories back or enables us to communicate emotions.

It is also an entertainment and is part of every celebration.  The presence of music in our lives shows how important it is and how different meaning is incorporated through music.

Learning to play an instrument strengthens the synapses between the brain cells which has a positive impact on our sensory and perceptual systems, cognition, gross and fine motor skills, co-ordination and learning memory.  All these benefits when we can be having fun, and enjoying ourselves when we are playing our instruments!

I am doing a sound therapy course and have had to buy more instruments to complete the course.  Purchasing instruments as been great therapy, before the sound therapy even starts!  As I sit typing I am surrounded by gongs, crystal bowls, a range of precision, the harps of course, nobody is ever far away from a harp in this house, and the old Joanna – cockney rhyming slang for piano.

As an occupational therapist I am approaching sound therapy from a therapeutic activity perspective.  As part of my course I have had to learn to play these new instruments and engage my senses with them.  Some of the sounds are ethereal.  Hearing them for the first time is an incredible experience, and not one that the mind or body first knows how to process as there is no previous experience of it to go on.  That’s my experience of it anyway, and what a fantastic experience, the older I get the harder it seems to be able to experience things for the first time.  I want to keep my feet firmly on the ground so that does limit my choices, no bungee jumping for me thank you.

I find playing the instruments is energising, and having them next to my desk is the perfect antidote for any mid morning or afternoon slump and serves me better than any coffee would.

Making music is powerful stuff, and energising activity, why isn’t if on prescription?

Relive the J Arthur Rank moment at a gong bath

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I am doing a sound therapy course and have had to buy more instruments to complete the course.  Purchasing instruments as been great therapy, before the sound therapy even starts!  As I sit typing I am surrounded by gongs, crystal bowls, a range of percussion, Himalayan bowls, the harps of course, nobody is ever far away from a harp in this house, and the old Joanna – cockney rhyming slang for piano.

As an occupational therapist I am approaching sound therapy from a therapeutic activity perspective.  I find playing the instruments is energising, and having them next to my desk is the perfect antidote for any mid morning or afternoon slump and serves me better than any coffee would.  I get up and bash a gong for a bit or caress a crystal bowl and hey presto I’m ready for work again.  Doing makes me feel good, am I a human doing, and not a human being?  No just an occupational therapist who knows the power of occupation, and the necessity to engage in activity that is meaningful to us.

As part of my course I have had to learn to play these new instruments and engage my senses with them.  Some of the sounds are ethereal.  Hearing them for the first time is an incredible experience, and not one that the mind or body first knows how to process as there is no previous experience of it to go on.  That’s my experience of it anyway, and what a fantastic experience, the older I get the harder it seems to be able to experience things for the first time.  I want to keep my feet firmly on the ground so that does limit my choices, no bungee jumping for me thank you.

Sound is energy that we can hear so it makes sense that producing the sound waves is energising.  We all have a personal response to sound, and may have associated certain memories with sound and have a different perception of what is music, what is sound and what is noise.  Birdsong isn’t technically music, but it is melodic and we like to hear it.  It is a sound of an early spring morning.

Most of us have only ever experienced a gong sound at the start of a J Arthur Rank Film if we’re old enough.  Now gongs are getting more popular and gong baths are popping up everywhere I thoroughly recommend one for a truly relaxing experience.  Relaxation is an underrated occupation that we need to invest more time in, so get yourself to a gong bath, leave your smart phone and tablet behind for a while and invest in yourself as recommended by Huffpost and catch one of mine in Southsea soon.

via Daily Prompt: Sound