Michelle And Jean Complamentary Therapy Banner
Michelle And Jean Complamentary Therapy Banner

Ex-banker is enriched by volunteer therapy role

A demanding career in banking taught Michelle Savin-Jones how important it is to listen to your body and look after your mental health.

Now a complementary therapist, she started volunteering at ellenor in 2019, offering reflexology, aromatherapy massage and more recently, reiki. Although she has her own private practice, she gives up one afternoon of her time each week to ellenor patients and their families.

She said: “I find it really rewarding knowing I am making a difference. Some of the people I treat might not otherwise consider complementary therapies, and I can just see how much it helps them. Volunteering has done two things: It has widened my understanding of the therapies I offer but it has also given me a feeling that I am doing something that really matters.

“I work with patients, their carers and people who have been bereaved. Many of them have cancer but there are patients with a range of life-limiting illnesses such as COPD and Parkinson’s. We tend to use much more gentle pressure and treatments at ellenor. For instance, reiki is generally hands off or a very light pressure. It’s so beneficial if people don’t want to be touched, and of course they can stay fully clothed.”

Like so many other lifelines, Michelle’s services were put on hold during the Covid lockdown, but she joined the charity’s Check in and Chat team, phoning patients and the bereaved during their long periods of isolation.

She said: “I had always known that I wanted to give up some of my time to work with people who have life limiting illnesses like cancer and luckily enough I saw that ellenor were advertising for volunteer therapists. I spent some time shadowing Sally, ellenor’s Senior Complementary Therapist, and then I started to come into the hospice once a week to help.

“When I first became a massage therapist, I still had a banking job. In fact, I was in banking and finance for 25 years. In the early 2000s I was working long hours in the city on the trading floor and I was going through a divorce. I started to suffer stress and health problems, so I started to look at different therapies. I began seeing a reflexologist, who would come to my house on a Friday evening. I would be in my pyjamas and after they left I would go to bed and get a really good night’s sleep. These treatments made a huge difference to my health at the time.”

Twenty years ago Michelle was made redundant and finding herself at a crossroads, she decided to train as a massage therapist. She was also lucky enough to find a banking job more locally to her home in Wrotham, and she worked there for a further 12 years. 

After another redundancy, she decided it was time to make a real change and opened her own private practice, offering complementary therapies from her home and from an osteopath’s clinic in nearby Borough Green. She added reflexology to her therapy repertoire five years ago, and aromatherapy and reiki more recently.

Michelle is delighted that health professionals such as consultants, doctors and nurses are far more accepting of complementary therapies than when she first started on her journey.

She said: “When I first trained in massage we were taught that complementary therapies were contraindicated for cancer patients, meaning they should not be used alongside clinical medicines and treatments. Thankfully the thinking has changed and these therapies are now known to be really beneficial and can help with side effects of things like chemotherapy.  It is not uncommon these days for patients to be offered Reflexology during a chemotherapy treatment.

“Aromatherapy combined with massage is wonderful. We also use Aromasticks, which can help patients with their breathing, insomnia, stress, anxiety, nausea and even pain. We blend essential oils based on what would be beneficial to each patient and that goes into a nasal inhaler, which you hold just under your nose. These inhalers last for at least three months and help to make you feel calm.

“Generally, the people who come to us just like to relax, but of course many do like to have a chat before and afterwards and some really open up to us. We offer a safe place for them to talk. Of course, some of the patients have counselling as well. They are often facing a real roller coaster of emotions.”

Michelle knows through her own life experiences how important it is to find the time and space to relax – and to be pampered once in a while. She enjoys spending down time with her year-old fox red Labrador Rocco and plans to walk 100k with him during the month of March to raise money for Dementia UK.

She also looks forward to catching up each week with the rest of ellenor’s Wellbeing team, who are working temporarily from The Manor Hotel in Gravesend. This is while a brand-new, state-of-the-art wellbeing centre is built at the hospice site in Northfleet.

“Sometimes when you work as a therapist you are very much on your own, and at ellenor it’s good to feel part of a team,” she said. “Through my volunteering, I have also learned a lot about my treatments and how they help people with cancer and other life-limiting illnesses. It has definitely deepened my understanding of complementary therapies and how they can help different people in so many different ways.”