How Alison's harp is helping patients heal

As Alison Ware gently strums her harp's strings, she looks to her patient to see if they relax into their bed.

It is in this way she can tell if she is doing her job well.

Therapeutic harpist Alison Ware at Canberra Hospital. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Therapeutic harpist Alison Ware at Canberra Hospital. Picture: Jamila Toderas

She is a therapeutic harpist and has been playing at Canberra Hospital since 2009, initially on a voluntary basis and now supported through the Canberra Hospital Foundation and other donor groups.

She always considered herself an empathetic person, but her connection to her patients has deepened since a breast cancer diagnosis late last year.

Ms Ware has just returned to work after treatment she underwent at the same hospital she plays her harp.

"I experienced the shock, the disbelief, the confusion, the anxiety and the waiting," she said.

"Now it's more of a lived experience, it's given me time to reflect on the work that I do, it's grown my empathy and compassion for other people.

"It's made me even more convinced that complementary services make such a difference."

Ms Ware plays to anyone who wants her services: those at the end of life, oncology patients, or the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.

From helping manage pain, reduce anxiety or brightening the day of staff and patients - her day is varied and always rewarding.

"[The patient] might not be having such a good day but for five minutes they can have a bit of a rest," Ms Ware said. "The music is adjusted to what that person needs at the time.

"I'll know within two to three minutes if my music is right because people will take a big breath and relax into the bed or chair."

If the music isn't right, Ms Ware will adjust the key to suit the patient's needs.

"Music can uplift, it can help people grieve, it can help at end of life, it can be great for nursing mums to help them relax," she said.

"It wont take pain away but it will augment pain management."

The Canberra Region Cancer Centre's Caroline McIntyre said the atmosphere was totally changed when Ms Ware played.

"Patients are very anxious waiting for their appointments and having the temperature brought down by the beautiful music that Alison plays has such an impact on all our patients but on our staff too," she said.

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