A Day in the Life of

My day starts checking that my team of eight harps are in good shape. The task of tuning these eight therapy harps can involve up to 208 strings! Harp strings go out of tune in the cold weather so I need to take extra care with this in the winter months.

I then pack the car with everything that I need. In some of my groups I never know how many people are going to attend. My sessions are 100% inclusive. So, if more than eight clients attend I need to make sure that I have enough additional instruments (eg desk bells percussion, chimes, rainsticks etc) to accompany the harps and to ensure that nobody is left out.

I have a morning group at Cancerwise in Chichester for people currently going through cancer diagnosis and their associated treatments, as well as for those living beyond cancer. The focus in this group is to allow people the freedom to be creative and to let their imagination flow. The idea is to absorb them in occupation, to help distract them from their treatment plans or impending results, and to allow everyone the space to do something beautiful.


Everybody in the group plays the harp. I believe there is no wrong note and that we are all musical, we do some simple exercises on the harps to build up confidence. All the harps are tuned in the same key and make a sweet sound when played together. Next, we improvise on the harps until our playing naturally comes to a close. During this stage our playing can become meditative and offers a distraction from the uncertainties and anxiety that cancer brings. Some members get into the beneficial Flow (Csikszentmihalyi 2002) state. It’s during this time of relaxation that the parasympathetic nervous system can heal and repair the body.

At the end of the session I make sure my clients are grounded and together we may discuss their experience of playing the harps. For some people playing the harp can be very special and moving. This can be emotional and people often need to share their experience.

Next, I have a session at a care home. I really need to use my flexible occupational therapy skills and my ‘what is willing to meet me’ harp therapy skills at care homes. Sometimes my session is in the lounge for a group of up to 15 people, and sometimes it is divided between individuals in their rooms. I never really know until I get there.


Today it’s a mixture, but it is about participation regardless of where I am. There is a crowd in the lounge and I engage them individually with the harp depending on their levels of physical and cognitive ability. Some play the harp, some like to sing along while I play or tap their fingers, or sway to the music. Some people with hearing impairments love to feel the vibration of the harp strings or place their hands on the sound box to feel the vibrations. The most important thing is that people engage in the activity and are part of the ‘doing’. Next I get out my set of desk bells. With the help of the Activity Co-ordinator we make sure everybody has a table for their bell and we play together. The desk bells are accessible to all and they make a sound when the top is pushed down. Everybody has one bell and each bell has one note. I conduct them through various tunes, such as Frere Jacques or the Star Wars theme. After we complete these tunes, everybody seems to show a sense of achievement and perhaps a raised self esteem.


Next, I play for people in their rooms who are unable to get out of bed. I always make this person centred and engage in cognitive stimulation and reminiscence through music. One lady who is 105 loves to sing a favourite song from her childhood in Scotland – Bonnie Mary of Argyle. This is clearly a meaningful activity for this lady because the staff tell me it is the only activity that she actively takes part in. Her eyes light up, and she sings the words that she remembers, and la la la’s along when she doesn’t. It’s a very powerful experience, and the Activity Co-ordinator films it to share with staff and family.

After discussing what has happened during my session with the Activity Co-ordinator and giving her my notes, it’s back home for admin. I complete my outcome measure, the validated Arts Observation Measure (Fancourt and Poon 2015), and write my notes. Any time left is used to reflect, invoice, respond to enquires, update social media, keep my accounts up to date, write my CPD and plan for tomorrow….


A day out at parliament

I was definitely in the right place at the right time last week. On 4th October I went to an Action Portsmouth networking event and met Stephen Morgan MP . I had just introduced myself and From the Harp and spoken about the benefits of the arts in health when I highlighted that there was a forthcoming arts in health debate  in parliament on 11th October. Stephen invited me to attend the debate with him. It wasn’t on my bucket list but it should have been:

“Attend debate in parliament with my local MP on a subject I’m passionate about”

What were the chances?


The All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Report came out in July.  It is a great report and well worth a read (the online version has podcasts and videos).

My first thought was how fantastic to have a report highlighting evidence and statistics in my area of work, while making the arts in health more prominent.

Secondly, what a shame that only one occupational therapist was involved in the advisory groups. After all, occupational therapists have been practicing arts in health for over 100 years. Yet occupational therapy only has two mentions in the report.  Find out more about occupational therapy.

The debate was a follow up to the report and took place in a room next to Westminster Hall.  Westminster Hall is pretty awesome, you may remember seeing it when the Queen Mother was lying in state in 2002 or when Nelson Manela deliverd a speech there in 2003.  It’s so huge, has a fantastic medieval hammer beam roof, and has been a significant backdrop throughout British history.  It’s well worth a visit. Stick it on your bucket list.

Stephen showed me around the public areas of Parliament, and told me some of the history. Did you know that MPs all have a place to hang a sword by their locker?! He explained some of the procedures before having to dash off for a vote. Again, he had been voting all afternoon.


The debate was running late as MPs came and went to fulfil their voting duties.


Ed Vaizey, the member of parliament who called the debate, opened it up by outlining the benefits of arts in health. Ed gave examples from the  APPG report on the arts in health. Medication, length of stay in hospital, agitation, loneliness and mental health all reduced, and he had examples and stats to back this up.

My ears pricked up when he gave harp therapy a shout out!  This is great for harp therapy as it is relatively new in the UK, and not widely known or talked about.

He said that the arts can change the morphology of the brain and I wondered if he got this from Gaynor Sadlo’s (retired professor of occupational science on the occupational therapy courses at Brighton University)  Facebook comment on the debate event . If you haven’t read it, have a read, she talks about the necessity for the brain to be busy to distract from engaging in internal negative self talk.

Ed gave lots of examples including stats and research about arts in health, but the key message was the need to expand the reach and to align with public health for health prevention. The arts have a positive effect on all ages and client groups so should be prominent in the public health arena. There also needs to be equality in access to all of the arts.


Arts are cost effective and also have a positive effect on staff often doing jobs that are wearing on an emotional, spiritual, mental and physical level. Arts funding would be well spent for clients and staff.

It was quickly pointed out that  Philip Dunne Health Minister was not present, although John Glen Minister for Arts was. Everybody was in agreement that it was a debate the Minister of Health needed to be involved in.

I think all the back benchers in attendance wanted to add to the debate and they were each given a 3 minute limit. Time keeping was very strict, and the one hour debate finished bang on time (18.42:02). Not like your average meeting…..

The best one liner: human flourishing is what’s needed, there’s more to life than GDP. Agreed: there’s harps

The back benchers continued to cite the benefits of arts in health from their constituencies. All ages, all client groups, all settings. Nobody present doubted the benefits.

So if this is the case why can’t the medical model incorporate the arts? It appears to be a no brainer.  We need a culture change in government for the arts and health agendas to merge as one.  Social prescribing needs to be available nationwide and not through the current postcode lottery.  Clinical Commissioning Groups and local arts providers need to be known to each other in order to provide social prescribing to the communities that they both serve.


We need to progress from the medical model and we need to incorporate the arts in training for medical staff. I believe occupational therapists may be the only allied health professionals that are taught about the arts.

On my  Health through Occupation MSc at the University of Brighton  I had classes in pottery, and various arts and crafts. We also had sessions on incorporating meaningful creative and imaginative activities in our treatment plans.

Occupational therapists are perfect to take this forward, maybe I’ll let Philip Dunne know, you could too:

Email: philip.dunne.mp@parliament.uk

Or tweet:



On my way out I met up with Jo White from Rhythmix , in Brighton, who create music programmes to help vulnerable people find their voice.  We were discussing the report in Westminster Hall when Ed Vaizey  came out of the debate, we both agreed we should introduce ourselves and get a piccie.  Thanks Ed.

Jo’s take away from the debate was the arts are “Not the icing of the cake but the essence of the cake”.

If you agree please get involved to try and gain more prominence for the arts in health.

You can let Ed Vaizey know what you think. He welcomed the comments he had received by email and on Facebook before the debate:


Twitter: @edvaizey

Facebook: facebook.com/edvaizeym…


Why you should go to a gong bath

What is a gong bath? During a gong bath you are surrounded and immersed in sounds from gongs, singing bowls, conch shell trumpets, shruti box, voice, crystal bowls, rattles rainstick and many other soothing complementary instruments.


It’s best to bring a yoga / camping mat, blanket and pillow so that you can lie down and make yourself comfortable. You are then immersed in the sounds and vibrations from the gongs and the other sound healing instruments.  The gong is wonderful for creating harmony and balance in our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves.  The sounds interact with our subconscious, quietening our mind and leading us into an altered stand of consciousness.  Towards the end of the gong bath more rhythmic instruments are used to help you to get grounded before going home.


There is no water or bath involved in a gong bath. The idea is that you let the sounds wash over you (you are bathed in sound) and by observing and focusing on these sounds, you become more present with the moment, and in turn your mind quietens.

Victoria Dawson Hoff wrote about her experience of a sound bath for Elle “It had been a stressful couple of weeks, and I imagined beforehand that I would struggle with pushing the negative thoughts out of my head.  Instead, I was amazed to find that my thoughts drifted to things that I hadn’t recalled in ages—good things. Random scenes from my childhood; the song lyrics I wrote when I was 18 and thought that I wanted to be a musician. I’ve read that memory recall is one of the first signs that meditation is “working” (for lack of a better word); it was obvious that my mind needed that break from the hustle of everyday life to reflect on these random but wonderful moments. After some time, these memories drifted away too, and I just observed the sounds.”


The gong bath is a form of sound therapy that goes back thousands of years.  The sound of the gong helps the body and brain to relax by going into Delta and Theta brain wave states.  Delta brain waves are experienced in a deep dreamless sleep and in very deep meditation.  Theta brain waves occur when we are dreaming: vivid imagery, intuition and information beyond normal consciousness awareness.  These brain waves are know to support relaxation, creativity and natural healing.

Our brain waves change according to what we are doing and feeling.  When we’re busy, thinking and alert our brain waves are Gamma and Beta.  As we all spend so much time on our phones and tablets we are always in a state of alert, we’re waiting for incoming messages from a variety of platforms.  It’s hard to shut off from the virtual world and be present in the here and now.


We need to invest in time to relax and put the effort into making this happen.  A gong bath is an ideal opportunity to put your screen down for an hour, get into your body and brain in the present moment, relax and just be.

This type of relaxation can activate the vagus nerve.  The vagus nerve seems to be getting a lot of good press lately.  It is the longest nerve in the body: it starts in the brain and passes through the digestive system, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart and lungs.  So the heart, guts and brain all communicate via this nerve, which is why we feel emotion in our stomach.  It plays a large part in the parasympathetic nervous system which is the ‘rest and digest’ system.   The sympathetic nervous system is our ‘fight or flight’ system, and puts us in states of alertness and anxiety.  When we are relaxing, our natural healing and repair systems work in conjunction with the parasympathetic nervous system. So, by activating the vagus nerve at a gong bath you can have a positive influence on your own immune system, health and wellbeing. Therefore, the role of the brain on the body can have a profound effect.

Gong baths are becoming more popular and mainstream. The Evening Standard recently featured a video of a gong bath including attendees experiences, which ranged from deep meditation to a great nights sleep. You can also read about gong baths in the Daily Mail and the gong in the Financial Times

From the Harp are now providing regular gong baths in Portsmouth and Southsea, why don’t you come along and try one?

Please check our Events Page page and From the Harp’s Facebook Page page for our gong bath events.  Booking is advisable.

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.


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.


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.


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.



Cancer and the art of relaxation with sound


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.