Striking a Chord

At our recent Cell2Soul conference, therapeutic harpist Anne Bewley described the technique she uses when playing for patients in the hospital setting.

“I try to find a note or chord on the harp that seems to resonate with the patient’s state,” Bewley explained. “Many times I improvise while watching the patient’s response. I can tell when we’ve connected—the patient begins to calm down and become less agitated.”

Bewley described how she can manipulate a cardiac patient’s heart rate, dropping it down from 130 to 90 beats per minute. “The only time it didn’t work, I found out afterwards that the patient had a pacemaker.”

I asked Anne Bewley if she knew of any studies that had been done on colicky babies, where attempts were made to soothe them through therapeutic music. Although she knew of none, she did tell me that she had used similar techniques to calm crying infants in the hospital nursery.

It occurred to me that when we empathize with others, we cue into their mood and mirror that mood through our body language, facial expression and verbal response. In short, we strive to meet them where they are; we attempt to connect with them, and then bring them to where they need to be—to a better place.

The psychologist Dan Gottlieb has said that perhaps what human beings desire most of all—more than love—is to be understood.

When we realize that we are understood, we know that we are not alone—another person has connected with us in an intimate way.

Therapeutic music and empathetic understanding may turn out to be two sides of the same coin.

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