Complementary Therapies

Some volunteer services have introduced different modalities for the general health and well-being of people in palliative care. Complementary therapies are:

A group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be a part of conventional medicine.”

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2017

In 2018 we studied the complementary therapies used by palliative care volunteer services in NSW. The study found that there was a total of 16 different complementary therapies practiced. The most common modalities were hand massage (90% of respondents using this therapy as part of their service), followed by foot massage (60% of respondents). Art therapy, music therapy, pet therapy, hairdressing, and manicure were represented in 30% of the responses. These were followed by body massage, reflexology, and aromatherapy which were found in 20% of the services surveyed. The least popular modalities were those of Reiki, yoga, play, and acupressure being in only 10% of the sampled responses. Click here to see our report Perspectives on the value of complementary therapies within palliative care volunteering (2018) and other resources on complementary therapies.

In some cases complementary therapy modalities require specialised practitioners to either perform the technique or to train volunteers, and in other cases volunteers can be effectively trained to perform specific techniques. The following brief descriptions include an indication of the specialised modalities.

Art Therapy – Art Therapy is a vehicle for starting conversations, and for empowering people to express feelings and make sense of their situation. Although Art Therapy is a specialised discipline volunteers can be trained in different techniques designed to engage and communicate with people receiving palliative care. This might be of particular benefit to volunteers working with children, or people with limited communication skills.

Bowen Therapy – a specialised modality

Essential Oils – Vaporising oil can provide a relaxing effect for people in palliative care. Small personal-use electrical-powered oil vaporisers are available which simply warm the oil sufficiently for the vapours to be released, and ultrasonic diffusers work without heating the oils by creating a fine cool mist which is infused with water and oil droplets. In each case check with your inpatient unit to ensure these will meet the fire and safety requirements. Oil selection is a highly personal choice, and the more common ones for relaxation might include Lavender, Bergamot, Patchouli, Geranium and Orange. Extra money spent on quality oils will avoid the soapy-odours of cheaper products and result in a far more pleasant result.

Jolley Trolley – The Jolley Trolley provides a gratuitous drink (soft and hard) service usually in the middle of the day around lunch time as a vehicle for encouraging connection and conversation. Security is important for all stock, and refrigeration may be necessary for some beverages. It is particularly important that alcoholic stock is secured out of reach of persons under 18 years. Services with a Jolley Trolley report that they often receive donations of beverages from loved ones while the person is an inpatient, or even as a post-bereavement donation to the volunteer service. The regulator for liquor service and licencing in NSW is the Office for liquor, Racing and Gaming has additional information which may be relevant to services with Jolley Trolleys.

Light exercise, Light touch – Where it is offered, light touch is one of the most in-demand volunteer programs. It is widely used in the inpatient setting as a means of establishing connection without words, and provides a powerful means of communicating care and empathy between the volunteer and the recipient. The Australian Association of Massage Therapists recommends specialised training for some specialised modalities. The term light touch is used by volunteer services to describe hand and foot massage typically to assist relaxation and relief from stress. For example light touch is usually provided by volunteers who have been trained by a massage therapist, whereas massage is a specialised modality provided only by a massage therapist. Light exercise like walking is also a valuable way of supporting and engaging with people receiving palliative care.

Hairdressing – a specialised modality

Massage – a specialised modality

Meditation – Everyday meditation, or mindfulness, can be learnt and practiced by volunteers with the assistance of an experienced practitioner.

Music – Musical taste comes in many colours and shades. The easiest option is for people to bring their own music (CDs, iPod or music player) to the inpatient setting, consider headphones and even noise-cancelling headphones if people are sensitive to background noise or need additional help with stress relief. Alternatively you may have volunteers who are skilled in live music. Music is particularly valuable for people with dementia.

Pets as Therapy – Typically Pets as Therapy (PAT) programs involve the use of pets for visiting and companionship to people who are experiencing isolation due to illness or disability. Some programs allow for a person to own a PAT dog and take responsibility for the animal’s exercise, grooming and general care and discipline (‘residential pet’). For additional guidance contact one of the organisations in NSW operating PAT programs and training: Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Velma’s Pets as Therapy and the Delta Society

Qi Qong – a specialised modality

Reflexology – a specialised modality

Yoga – a specialised modality

These comments are intended to be helpful in seeing the scope of possible activities, and as a starting point for more research by you as the manager.

Check with your health services’ policies for complementary modalities before introducing new programs, for example there may be particular insurance or scope of practice limitations. Guidelines for the delivery of programs should be clearly set out including the requirement for any specialised qualifications, the scope of the activities involved, resources, and responsibility for storage of equipment and materials.

Check the references to the organisations listed above for their web addresses for more information about their activities and resources.