Wardipedia – 72. Complementary therapies

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Hands on healing


Hand massage, head massage, aromatherapy, reflexology…. Whatever the technical healing properties of different complementary therapies, there’s no question that patients find these experiences soothing and pleasurable. Wards are increasingly offering complementary therapies by suitably qualified practitioners, whether:

  • Staff
    • Ward staff
    • Physios
    • OTs
  • Volunteers
  • Experienced but pre-qualification practitioners

The (excessive but don’t get us started on that one) smoking ban (Idea #22 Smoking sounds off a bit about this) has resulted in lots of wards converting those old stinky, sparse (but much loved….) salons into classy, gentle, scented pampering rooms. Or something with a less girly name for men’s wards.

Many patients will already be very reliant on one or more complementary therapy to help them cope with their illness, so even if your ward isn’t currently able to provide these, it’s still helpful to understand something about the major practices.

See also ideas #14 Multi-sensory and #15 Sanctuaries

Ward Examples

  • We provide reflexology, massage and facials
  • Two complementary therapy volunteers (one of which is a service user volunteer) provide a pampering session at the Involvement Centre and on some of the wards. They provide treatments like manicures, pedicures and hand massage. (See article below)

Source: People Matters Magazine, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust

  • One complementary therapy volunteer who provides pampering sessions agreed to help the Trust create a basic hand massage tutorial DVD. This DVD is now used by ward staff and patients to learn the technique.
  • In collaboration with a service user volunteer, a guided relaxation CD was produced for all staff and patients to use on the wards. The relaxation CD has 2 guided sessions which are voiced by both a male and a female narrator. The CD also includes relaxation music which was produced by a staff member which is ideal for complimentary therapy sessions

Top Tips from a Ward Volunteer Who Offers Therapies

  • Ensure Infection Control Nurse has been involved and advice sought
  • Get patient infection briefings from ward staff before treatment commences
  • Ensure Therapist is up to date with current contra-indications to treatment
  • Get patient briefings from ward staff in terms of contra-indications before treatment commences
  • Use the Trust’s policy guidelines
  • Ensure original certificates seen
  • Meeting with Ward Manager
  • Fundraise for resources and equipment
  • Apply to charitable mental health funds

Getting more complementary

  • We strongly recommend that each patient has the opportunity for at least weekly complementary therapy session eg aromatherapy, massage, Tai Chi.
  • It really helps if one  member of the staff team is trained and able to practice one or more complementary therapies with inpatients.
  • Great as a volunteer role – gives something very specific and appreciated to do.
  • Worth contacting local complementary therapy centre or individual practitioners to see if they might be willing to give some free sessions.
  • Several hospitals have converted their smoking rooms into complementary therapy rooms! Many others have quiet rooms conducive to complementary therapies taking place there.

Patient examples

  • I was clueless about self-soothing until the ward had an aromatherapy evening which explained all the different ways the senses can be used to help us feel better
  • I have found ways to cope that don’t destroy me, instead they soothe me.
  • We used to have spontaneous pamper evenings and for an hour or so I would forget that I was in hospital.
  • I would have never thought I’d be pampered on a psychiatric ward. You don’t expect to be pampered in hospital. Each week I get a hand, arm, leg and foot massage from a qualified complementary therapist who volunteers.

A little note from Marion Janner (founder of Star Wards)

I’ll stick my neck out a bit here and particularly recommend Indian head massage. When I’ve had it during some rough periods, I’ve found it not only dreamily,  brain-tinglingly relaxing, but I think I appreciated at quite a deep level that this soothing was directly being applied to the holding station for my crazyness. Sort of therapeutic brain massage. I also like the fact that there’s no awkward removal of clothes, and it’s not dauntingly intimate. And it makes me feel super-chilled for hours afterwards.When my mum was dying of cancer, the highlights of each week (apart from spending time with her delightful family, of course) were the complementary therapies complimentarily provided by the amazing Jewish charity Chai Cancer Care. (Chai is the Hebrew word for life and a very resonant word among Jews.) Reflexology, healing and (my favourite and the only one I was allowed to join in on) laughter therapy. A hilarious Jewish stand-up would come into Chai once a week and do his schtick and it was a little oasis of laughter in the midst of Mum’s health ordeal. (See also Idea #28 Funnyness.)


Categories: Empathy, Wardipedia