Jennifer Browning, CNS (at left), leads the Complementary Therapies in Nursing Workgroup, whose aim is to increase awareness, provide education and bring complementary therapies to the bedside.
Marjorie Anderson, MS, RN, a mental health specialist at Ohio State's Medical Center, enters each of her patients' rooms with the intent to help or heal. She practices Therapeutic Touch, which works to relieve pain and promote a sense of well-being among patients.
"What they say to me is, 'It feels like you're pulling all of the pain out of my body. It's the first time I've had relief in three weeks,'" notes Anderson, who works in Oncology at the Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
Therapeutic Touch is one of many techniques in the arena known as complementary therapies. This type of treatment, which works alongside Western medicine, includes such practices as aromatherapy, meditation, music therapy and pet therapy. Complementary medicine emphasizes natural remedies that have been used here and in other countries, in some cases, for centuries.
Complementary Therapies in Nursing
Some nurses are working to raise awareness about complementary therapies' benefits. One of these nurses is Jennifer Browning, CNS, who leads the Complementary Therapies in Nursing Workgroup. The group's mission is to increase awareness, provide education and resources and bring complementary therapies to the bedside. The Complementary Therapies group has created an internal website with information and resources for nursing staff. Last spring, it started piloting education with nursing staff on a Medical Surgical and a Critical Care unit in Doan and Rhodes Halls.
Hands-on healing: A hand massage offers many therapeutic benefits, including alleviating pain and stiffness in the hands, relieving tension in the tendons, improving circulation and providing relaxation.
In the educational sessions, nurses learned and practiced the use of music, guided imagery, breathing techniques for relaxation and simple hand/foot massage. "We encourage nurses to take the practical techniques and share with other staff, patients and families," says Browning, a gerontology clinical nurse specialist.
She notes that complementary therapy techniques have always been part of nursing care. "We are raising the awareness of the modalities that are practical and can be incorporated into care at the bedside," she says. "Modalities such as the use of music, guided imagery and simple massage have been an informal part of nursing for years. Now we are giving nursing staff the tools to integrate them as a regular part of patient care."
Susan Campbell, MS, RN-BC, a nursing staff development specialist, is also passionate about the healing powers of complementary therapy. She has been doing aromatherapy on general surgery patients, filling a nebulizer with water and a few drops of essential oils — peppermint for nausea and lavender for pain.
"Usually, they get some kind of relief from it," she says of patients. "The nausea seems to get better. The headaches also seem to be better."
Complementary therapies work just as well to soothe nurses. Debra Bond, RN, a staff nurse on a renal unit, started a staff appreciation day on her unit using complementary therapies. Nurses were given five-minute relaxation sessions featuring guided imagery, aromatherapy, chimes and other soothing interventions for the senses. She wants to institute more of these days.
"What a way to give back, and having a place to sneak out for five or 10 minutes makes you better at your job," she says. "You have to experience it yourself before you give it to your patients."
Sometimes pets are the best medicine — which is why The Ohio State University offers the Pet Pal program. The 12 dogs in the program come to patients' bedsides and into common areas with their handlers. The group includes a German shepherd, golden retrievers and a Bernese mountain dog. While the canines are trained and certified as therapy dogs, their function is to provide friendly visits, notes Margaret High-Thomas, associate director of Volunteer Services and director and coordinator of the Pet Pal program.
"These dogs help promote relaxation in patients and family members," she says.
The program has had some very touching moments. One patient who had been seriously burned in a fire opened his eyes and started moving his hand for the first time when beagle Lizzy (inset) was placed by the man's side.
"They are able to touch people in ways humans can't," says Lizzy's owner, Sheila Wheeler. "They just have that ability."