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Complementary Therapy In A Time Of Covid-19 – Why It’s Never Been More Important

Blog post   •   Jul 30, 2020 08:00 BST

Sally Baker - Complementary Therapist

Pandemic or no pandemic, ellenor’s patients and their families know they can count on us to deliver the care that’s so essential to every aspect of their well-being - physical, mental,emotional and spiritual.

ellenor’s senior Complementary Therapist Sally Baker leads a team of five qualified volunteer therapists who offer patients massage, reiki, reflexology and aromatherapy treatments. With the support offered to their families, too, complementary therapy is a vital part of ellenor’s palliative care service. “Between us, we usually see an average of about 15 patients a week, either in the inpatient ward or bookable sessions for outpatients in the therapy room,” explains Sally, “Come lockdown, though, we could no longer offer hands on sessions for people. We had to find answers fast to familiar challenges, and to some new ones, too”.

Sally, who has been part of the ellenor team for four years, is a passionate advocate of the benefits complementary therapies offer: “At ellenor, we’re all about offering truly holistic treatment – dealing with every aspect of a patient’s health, not just the physical. What our team offers is treatment and support that enables patients and their families to handle what they’re going through better. Complementary treatments like ours can help them to cope with the medical treatment they’re given and the stress of worrying, uncertain times.”

Throw in, of course, the additional worry and uncertainty caused by the covid-19 pandemic on top of everything else that ellenor patients and their families have to deal with, and it is clear complementary support has never been more important. Therapies involving touch, however, have of course been put on hold.

Sally says, “We realised what we could offer as an alternative is a support via telephone and online meetings, and we’ve gone from the 15 people we were seeing pre-lockdown, to having individual contact with around 20 to 30 a week. We’ll offer them support for anything from general anxiety to more specific issues, such as insomnia.”

Sally and her team began phoning patients and relatives, now confined to home, to discuss any anxieties they might have and how complementary treatments might help them. As a result, attendance numbers at online group Zoom meetings, during which Sally offers meditation, relaxation and stress-management techniques to participants, have quadrupled “Pre-Covid-19, when we started these sessions we’d meet at the hospice once a week for these sessions and I’d have about four takers – now I regularly have around sixteen. And though we don’t have face-to-face contact, one of the arguable advantages of meeting virtually is that those who want to take part but can’t make the journey to the hospice can still join in and attendees that want to stay private for whatever reason don’t have to be seen or heard – they can switch off their cameras, so they can see me but the rest of us can’t see them.”

Patients, their families and the ellenor team have responded positively. “It was so rewarding to hear one participant in our Zoom relaxations sessions, who’s been dealing with all the emotions surrounding bereavement, say she’d been blown away to discover just how much support there is for families, not just at end-of-life stage, but afterwards, too. She told me, ‘Even in lockdown, you don’t feel alone’ – which was just brilliant to hear.”

But what about those in ellenor’s care who don’t have access to a computer or smartphone for virtual support? Sally says that these are the individuals she and her team tend to connect with regularly via phone, and she’s also sent out relaxation CDs in the post as a substitute for the online meetings. Meanwhile, Sally has also been offering fellow staff and volunteers at ellenor online mindfulness and relaxation sessions that are also proving helpful. Tracey Hill,ellenor’s Head of Support Services, has been recommending them to others: “We’ll reap the benefits - I’ve found it’s just a short while in which I can calm my mind and allow myself time to recharge.”

Something else that has proved very effective in lockdown for ellenor patients and their families – and for staff, too - have been aromasticks. These are plastic vials that Sally fills with a mix of stress-relieving essential oils that can be sent through the post. “Just a few drops of essential oils are put on a felt insert inside the aromastick and the stick is then wafted under the nose to release its fragrance,” Sally explains. “The scent is subtle but surprisingly effective in helping lift mood and create a sense of calm. We can’t of course offer aromatherapy massage in the current situation, but this is a simple way to deliver some of its benefits. This year, I’ve produced around 100 vials, with many of these having been sent out once lockdown kicked in.”

Sally is so passionate about the benefits of Complementary Therapy because she’s witnessed its positive effects first-hand, over many years, for many different people and in many different situations: “It is invaluable, helping to alleviate physical pain, enabling people to come to terms with sometimes very difficult emotions, as a form of stress relief and as part of a coping strategy. I feel so grateful that even in today’s challenging circumstances when it’s more important than ever,ellenor is still able to offer complementary therapies to our patients, their families and our team.”

If you are interested in finding out more about our services please telephone the Wellbeing Team on 01474 320007.