Harp Therapy Strikes the Right Note

By Meg Nash

When Cheryl Kripke Cohen walks down a hospital hallway to visit a patient, people will often do a doubletake or stop dead in their tracks, because she isn’t pushing a gurney or a piece of high-tech medical equipment, but carrying a 23-string, seven-pound “therapy harp” strapped around her back.

Cohen is certified in harp therapy, a complementary care service that has become increasingly popular in the past 10 to 15 years. It is used in addition to conventional techniques to enhance treatment outcomes or improve quality of life.

Cohen explains that harp therapy: Normalizes blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate; Improves oxygenation of blood; Reduces pain and anxiety, decreasing the need for pain medications; Promotes relaxation and sleep; Instills a sense of well being and hope.

“Harp music is like receiving a massage to the soul, because the sustained vibrations of the harp strings penetrate deeply into the body, creating a soothing, calm and stress-relieving environment,” she says. “The harp therapist provides music that is individualized to patients’ immediate needs and current situation. Meeting a patient where they are, and creating a cradle of sound, is the essence of harp therapy.”

Cohen, who lives in Flourtown, Pa., has been a registered nurse for 25 years, spending most of her career in pediatrics. She received her hospital certification as a harp therapist in 2005 from Bedside Harp in Bensalem, Pa., and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. Her nursing background “is a tremendous asset to my work as a harp therapist. I’m comfortable dealing with patients and their loved ones, as well as collaborating with health team members.”

Cohen plays her harp at patients’ bedsides in hospitals, hospices, in homes and assisted-living facilities and this spring will help launch a new harp therapy training program, Bedside Harp (www.bedsideharp.com), hosted by Abington Memorial Hospital (http://www.amh.org/).

Through funding provided by the Kisses for Kyle Foundation (www.kissesforkyle.org), she visits St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to play for children being treated for cancer and their families.

Sharon Snyder, president of the foundation says, “I met Cheryl this past summer by a chance encounter and I was intrigued by our conversation. After learning about Cheryl and her amazing contributions, I knew that our foundation needed to have her talent and experience to help the children that we support and I look forward to a long relationship through the foundation I have in my son Kyle’s memory.”

Reprinted with permission. Originally printed in Parents Express, May 2007.