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Therapists work hand in hand with hospice clinical teams

Complementary therapies are as important as clinical care ellenor. This holistic approach addresses the physical health of patients and their families -- as well as their mental wellbeing.

That is why National Complementary Therapy Week (March 20-25) is so important to the therapists at ellenor. They want to share their successes and explain how important their therapies are in controlling pain and combatting stress and insomnia.

After working at ellenor for nearly seven years, Sally needs no persuading as to the benefits of complementary therapies for those with life limiting illnesses and their loved ones.

Senior Complementary Therapist Sally Baker said: “I absolutely love working in this environment and really enjoy being able to help and comfort people along their journeys.”

Sally can offer reiki, aromatherapy, massage and reflexology. She works three days a week and is helped by volunteer Michelle, who works one afternoon a week. They offer patients, their families, carers, and the bereaved up to three sessions of any treatment.

“Complementary therapies are more personal and are used alongside conventional medical treatment. It may help you to feel better and cope better with your illness. “That’s why it is called complementary,” said Sally.

“You can go to the doctor, and they can reassure you but what I do is hands on and I am with the patient for an hour-long session. It’s a lot of time to be able to talk and get a sense that someone is listening, which is really important. We are not trained counsellors, but we are trained in listening skills.”

Complementary therapies can help with some of the side effects of clinical treatment, the neuropathy caused by chemotherapy for example.

On Zoom, Sally also now runs a weekly Mindfulness and Relaxation class, concentrating on breathing and relaxation techniques. Once a month volunteer and meditation practitioner Camilla Baker take the class.

“It was one of the good things to come out of lockdown,” said Sally. “It’s a one-hour session and we usually have between 10 and 16 people taking part. Often, they are people who would find it difficult to get into the hospice, either because they are bedbound or have transport issues.

“There is also a twice-monthly Zoom group called Therapies for the Senses, an interactive group where we talk about the different types of therapies and give demonstrations. We show people how to give themselves an Indian head massage, reflexology or how to carry out a technique called Tapping.

“We also look at different types of essential oils and their benefits as well as the different ways you can use them, in a diffuser for instance.”

Since lockdown, Sally has been able to hand out individual Aromasticks to patients – or send them in the post.

She said: “Complementary therapies really do help lift the mood and give you a sense of wellbeing. They also help manage pain, which can be a big issue for a lot of people. If pain can be reduced by a few hours or a day or two and it gives the patient some relief, then it really is worthwhile.”

Sally has also had good results helping people with insomnia.

She said: “If people are worried about their treatment or their future it can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety and that leads to sleepless nights. We can help to relieve these stresses and give people a sense of comfort and the feeling that someone is caring.”

Patients are usually referred to Sally by another ellenor team such as Family Support or Hospice @ Home, although it is also possible to self-refer. The treatments are on offer to outpatients, who now meet at The Manor Hotel in Gravesend, as well as to patients on the ward at the Northfleet hospice. Families, carers and the bereaved are also encouraged to seek help for their wellbeing.

The therapists are also able to recommend other wellbeing avenues to people, such as counselling and the open access activity groups such as seated exercise, music and gardening.

According to Sally, wellbeing is becoming increasingly recognised as an important part of all our lives, especially since the anxieties and loneliness of the pandemic and lockdown.

She said: “During lockdown we kept in contact with people via the phone and some said they don’t know what they would have done without those calls. Now, since lockdown, people have become so much more aware of mental health. They are now thinking that they need to look after themselves.

“The consultants and the nurses can tell if one of their patients has had one of our therapies. They remark on a calmness – and they especially like the smells on the ward after an aromatherapy massage. So, it benefits everyone and lifts everyone’s mood – it’s a knock-on effect.”

She said: “You are giving people comfort and making them feel safe and secure during their journeys and especially during end of life care. I absolutely love my job – it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

If you would like to buy a CD of six short meditations, sold in aid of ellenor for £12, please visit Make a Donation Today | ellenor . Under “reason for donation” say that you would like to buy a meditation CD