At Hospiscare, we know that there is more to end-of-life care than meeting a patient’s medical needs. As part of our holistic approach to patient care, we’re fortunate to have the expertise of a team of complementary therapists.
Sarah Carter joined Hospiscare in September 2019 as a Volunteer Complementary Therapist. An opportunity soon opened up for a permanent employed role and Sarah has worked in this new role since January 2020.
Sarah explains, “We work alongside clinical staff to best support patients, carers and their families and this can range from a soothing treatment to simply promoting wellbeing at times of high stress, to something tailored for a specific need, such as reflexology to aid digestion.
“More recently, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, complementary therapy at Hospiscare has evolved into supportive listening which involves guided relaxation and strategic techniques to help ease anxiety and stress. These treatments have been tailored to enable us to support patients over the phone or through videos developed by our team.
“What complementary therapy can offer is a person-centred approach. We understand that everyone is an individual and that we experience things differently. Yes, we are interested in what those physical symptoms are, but we are specifically interested in how those physical symptoms are emotionally affecting you.”
Sarah has been interested in complementary therapy since college where she considered massage therapy but her life took a different turn, causing her to pursue different subjects at university.
After the birth of her first child, Sarah experienced some issues and went to see a homeopath. She explains “it was completely life changing.”
Sarah’s experience rekindled her interest in complementary therapy. She went on to study homeopathy and did massage and reiki training at the same time. Recently, Sarah has also completed Neuro-Linguistic Programming practitioner training. This entails treating someone holistically and knowing that, aside from their physical symptoms, there is always a bigger picture going on. Sarah explains: “You need to know the patient’s story and what is happening in their life as it will be contributing to their wellbeing, in addition to their ill-health.
“We want patients to feel nurtured; you don’t just become your symptom or your disease, which can happen when someone receives a terminal illness diagnosis. We make sure you are being met as a person because you don’t suddenly lose who you are because you have a new diagnosis.”
Sarah sees the impact massages and therapies have on her patients, from soothing aches and pains to allowing them time and space to relax and clear their heads. Sarah recalls the impact of reiki on a patient who had been receiving chemotherapy: “She hadn’t been able to feel her hands and feet for several months due to the chemo. After the reiki treatment, she was very teary and told me that for the first time in months, she could feel them.”
Patients and carers can initially feel sceptical about the benefits of complementary therapy and this is a barrier that Sarah hopes to break down. She explains: “It does make me wonder how many patients or carers there could be out there who, for whatever reason, aren’t giving complementary therapy a go. It makes me wonder what we can be doing about that to reach them.
“I had one gentleman with advanced cancer who had never had any complementary therapy before but his wife was quite encouraging. He wasn’t a complete sceptic but he did arrive saying ‘my wife thinks this might be good for me but I’ve not had it before’.
“Sometimes in complementary therapy, we come across this sort of thing – we call it TEETH – Tried Everything Else Try Holistic! This patient knew he wasn’t feeling great and thought, what have I got to lose? I recommended a particular type of massage and finished with a bit of reiki. He was gobsmacked by the end and said he was completely converted.
“The main thing for him was relaxation; he told me that he couldn’t remember the last time he had felt that relaxed. His head is constantly whirring and the treatment completely clears it. I think that is such a wonderful thing to be able to offer people.”
Like many of our volunteers, Sarah came to Hospiscare through a personal connection which sparked a need to give something back.
“My gran was cared for by Hospiscare many years ago and I always remember how amazing the staff were and how comforting this place was. I had a diagnosis of skin cancer myself in 2014; it was caught early and I am fine now, but I wanted to give something back.
“It’s strange how things come together. I crossed paths professionally with a Complementary Therapist at Hospiscare and she mentioned that they were looking for volunteers and that’s how it all began.”
Sarah has found that personal experiences of Hospiscare are a shared theme with staff and volunteers at the charity.
“It’s such a unique place to work because everyone who is working here is working with a real purpose. Everyone that I have met so far has their own story as to why they are here. That, very early on, made me realise that I was in a really incredible place.
“The training courses Hospiscare offer for volunteers and staff make you see the scope of what Hospiscare is actually doing. I literally had a wow moment. I remember being on the Welcome Day as a volunteer and thinking, I feel like I have arrived home; I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.”