How We Help
What Complementary Therapies Add to Hospice
by Timothy Phillips
As a shiatsu therapist and massage therapist now in private practice for 15 years, I feel that I have been handed a gift. It is the gift of touch. I am doing something that I consider as life affirming. It is a service that I believe can make a significant difference in the quality of my clients’ lives and, at the same time, it gave me a sense of purpose.
As a volunteer for Alliance Hospice, it is my way of giving back to the community and a means of bringing some comfort to those in possibly the most important stage of their life. Massage and shiatsu helps relieve muscular spasm and tension therbye reducing pain, raises immune efficiency, improves circulation, promotes the healing of tissues, increases the healthy functioning of the skin and, above all, offers emotional reassurance. You might ask reassurance of what?
The process of dealing with a life threatening illness along with the distinct possibility that it might result in a death can be scary for the patient and equally scary, if not more so, for family and friends. Certain cultures are better at dealing with it than others. For friends and family it can be like facing one’s own mortality. That can result in staying away from the person that is sick. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with seeing the sick person in such a feeble state when we would rather remember them as robust and functioning. The patient may feel very much alone if they are shunned at this time in their life.
It is well documented the importance of touch in new borns. In the 1990's we remember the babies in the Rumanian orphanages who languished and died if not picked up and cuddled. Babies who are held, hugged and kissed develop much better physically and emotionally. For those in the last moments of their life, physical touch is no less important. Physical touch is a powerful way of communicating emotional love. It helps the patient feel lovable, loved and wanted. It helps give them an identity beyond the label of their illness. It is a bond of relationship and intimacy.
Although my training is as a complementary therapist offering a touch therapy, in advance of seeing a patient I try not to have a preconceived idea of the work I will do. Many times I will listen to their stories and often I will share my own. Quite often the two are identical. What do I get out of this work? Maybe I realise that there are common bonds that connects us in our humanity. For me, hospice work is not about death and dying, it is about life and living.
Timothy Phillpis is an Alliance Hospice volunteer providing shiatsu and massage therapy to hospice clients.
Healing on the Danforth, 1397 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, Ontario, M4J 1N2