Consider the Alternative
Exploring the avenues of non-traditional therapies
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The modern age has its contradictions, and medicine is often at the center of our tensions. Cutting-edge scientific advances may prolong our lives and lessen our pains, but non-traditional and sometimes unproven alternatives are attracting greater numbers each year. Roughly 40 percent of respondents to a broad 2009 Study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported using some form of alternative medicine. The efficacy of these methods range from the proven (massage for headaches, fish oil for lowering cholesterol), to the dubious (supernatural powers and telephone energy clearing). But the majority exist in a scientific gray area—unproven, but not harmful.
Complementary and alternative medicines ask a simple question: When proven Western science can be joined by drug-free and non-invasive methods to offer a further release from the grip of pain and disease, why not consider the alternative?
Hospitals as Healing Spas
Massage and acupuncture right in your hospital room? At hospitals across the country, ancient Eastern healing practices are merging with Western clinical medicine to develop a more holistic approach to healthcare.
“Hospitals are starting to understand that the complementary processes of both traditional and non-traditional medical care benefits the patient significantly,” said Erin Pfaeffle, director of St. Luke’s Center for Community Health and the developer of the hospital’s Integrative Therapies program. “We have an unbelievable pool of complementary health practitioners in the Valley—a community that’s already open to caring for themselves using multiple healing modalities. It was a really natural fit for this community.”
The first integrative therapies available for St. Luke’s patients were acupuncture, massage, healing touch and guided imagery. “There has been a lot of research on all the modalities we chose,” Pfaeffle said. “It was really important that what we chose had scientific research behind it.”
Legend has it that the ancient practice of acupuncture was developed when early Chinese physicians observed the unpredicted effects of puncture wounds in warriors. The practice evolved into a science of inserting tiny needles along the body’s meridian points to open the chi, or energy flow, to relieve pain.
“One use of acupuncture in the hospital is during post-surgery to reduce swelling, pain or nausea,” said Mary Kay Foley, coordinator for the Integrative Therapies program at St. Luke’s, where all on-site acupuncturists pass a strict certification process administered by the hospital. “Pain reduction helps the healing process,” Foley said. “Studies have shown that the use of acupuncture can reduce a patient’s need for pain-reducing medication.”
A hospital is an intimidating place, so some progressive administrators are bringing guided imagery and music into every room to help patients focus on healing instead of tubes, charts and bills.
Research shows that viewing natural scenes of flowing rivers or falling leaves along with relaxing music can promote relaxation and relieve stress. Guided meditation can provide bedridden patients a more interactive relaxation.
“The use of beautiful images and visualizations to reduce stress helps people breathe more slowly, relax and think positive thoughts,” Foley said. The resulting decrease in blood pressure and heart rate can aid the healing process.
The benefits of massage include pain relief, reduced anxiety, and temporarily reduced blood pressure and pulse.
but assuredly in rubbing.”
“It’s all about patient-centered care—helping the patient be as relaxed and comfortable as they can be in a stressful situation,” Pfaeffle explained. “We change the environment. We can help make a patient’s experience more relaxing by using techniques that have been scientifically shown to facilitate healing.” No longer a cold, clinical institution—integrative medicine is all about hospital as nurturer.
From Native American shamans to Japanese reiki, the “laying on of hands” has been practiced through the ages. Today, it’s becoming more accepted as a formalized alternative therapy, complete with training centers and certification processes.
In healing touch practice, a patient lies clothed while the healer gently places his hands on (or slightly above) the individual. Sessions generally last 40 to 60 minutes, and patients frequently report feeling deeply relaxed and peaceful during and after the session. It also helps in reducing stress, calming anxiety and decreasing pain.
“Healing touch has a strong history with holistic nursing,” Foley said. “Healers went into the line of work wanting to help comfort, relax and be connected to people. A lot of it is an intuitive, natural interaction—a caring person giving you energy in a positive way.” >>>