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  • Writer's pictureNicole E. Anderson

What is Therapeutic Music (TM)? 5 Things You Should Know

As I perfect my elevator speech for explaining what I'm doing with my harp in the woods, I inevitably mention therapeutic music, usually in the context of "I'm spreading the word of therapeutic music and how its benefits are similar to the benefits found in nature." It's at least enough for people to understand that this isn't about getting gigs and certainly not about taking away from the environment, but what exactly is therapeutic music? I don't usually have time to dive too far into the topic when I'm on the trails, so I decided it was important to drop a few lines here. Instead of writing pages galore, I narrowed it down to what I think are 5 of the most important things to know about therapeutic music.

1. Therapeutic Music is a holistic wellness practice. Therapeutic musicians are certified to conduct music sessions with patients at health and wellness facilities. We like to say that it is an "art rooted in science," because we combine the art of music with the health and psychological sciences to create a healing atmosphere with our instruments.

2. Though harp is the most popular instrument in our field, we can get certified in any appropriate instrument (i.e. any instrument that has soothing tone and frequencies). I am certified in both harp and piano.

3. Therapeutic music ≠ harp therapy ≠ music therapy. Providing therapeutic music indicates that the practitioner is certified and trained specifically in providing music at the bedsides of patients. Harp therapy is a broader term, which can include both certified and not-certified harpists. Music therapy is comprised of master's-level practitioners who specialize in goal-oriented approaches to healing, often through rehabilitative action plans involving multiple instruments. While Therapeutic Musicians usually play the instrument, Music Therapists often have interactive sessions where both they and their patient play music. Therapeutic musicians, on the other hand, do not have set goals for a session. We meet the patient at whatever state of mind and body they are at, and we connect with them through our music, bringing them to a place of rest, peace, or comfort.

4. Therapeutic music ≠ entertainment. Our style of playing is intentionally simple. We use our instruments to express and communicate. We want to be one with our environment, allowing the music to wash over our listener. We are not there to show off our skills.

5. Therapeutic music can be combined with other modalities for an integrative approach to healing. These other modalities can be anything from Western medicine, to pet therapy, to yoga, to spiritual healing, and anything in between.

One bonus fact is that the field of therapeutic music is still new, and strides are being taken to standardize the practice. Beyond playing for patients, one of our roles as Therapeutic Musicians is to educate others on the benefits of our practice. The outdoors isn't the typical place one would expect to learn about such things, but it has worked out even better than I imagined. When people are already feeling at peace in their surroundings, they understand what patients are able to feel when they cannot go outside, but can instead listen to music that matches the rhythms of nature.

hiking harpist no words with surreal eff
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