While people in the United States still use Western medicine, many are also doing so in conjunction with Eastern treatments used for centuries. Jennifer Bjork, MSN, RN, Clinical Educator and Interdisciplinary Partnership Council Site Coordinator at Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center, implements aromatherapy and healing arts with patients. The center began using aromatherapy with patients in October 2016, and added additional techniques in December 2016.

Bjork, who has earned certifications in Clinical Aromatherapy in Obstetrics and Level 1 Integrated Healing Arts, took time to answer some questions about these for us.

Regarding Aromatherapy and Healing Arts: Please explain what these are to those who may not be familiar with them.

Integrated Healing Arts, which includes gentle touch techniques, simple breathing techniques, presence, imagery, and use of essential oils—or aromatherapy—are used to help hospital patients undergoing some sort of stress. We know that hospitals can be stressful places, and we integrate these techniques with traditional medical treatments to help our patients heal by decreasing their stress. We also teach these techniques to our staff, because we know that we are best at helping others when we first help ourselves. Here is a breakdown of our Aromatherapy and Healing Arts program components:

  • Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils—liquids taken from plants, flowers, and trees that have been used for centuries to reduce symptoms, such as pain and emotional distress. They are also disinfectants and used to promote a sense of peace and well-being.
  • Gentle touch techniques—such as a gentle massage—are simple techniques from many healing traditions used to help a person relax.
  • Simple breathing techniques help the body release tension and slows the brain activity.
  • Imagery is using your mind to imagine an image that brings a patient relaxation, decreases anxiety, and promotes overall healing. Our bodies do not know the difference between “imagining” an experience and actually experiencing it. We get the same benefit from both.

When do you use these procedures?

We use these therapies any time a hospital patient is feeling pain, fear, anxiety, depression, nausea, or any other form of stress. Any patient, actually, any person—including staff—can benefit from the Integrated Healing Arts.

Why do you use them for the patients?

Being sick, having a baby, and having a surgery or procedure can be very stressful. This stress can cause fear, pain, anxiety, depression, poor sleep, etc. Stress activates hormones and chemical reactions in our bodies that can decrease immunity and not allow us to heal.

How does it help?

We use them to reduce the human stress response by promoting relaxation and stimulating the release of chemicals in our brain that improves immunity, allowing hospital patients to heal. The work with our bodies’ neuro-hormonal-endocrine system helps promote consciousness and relationships.

What are these processes bringing to patients that other methods don’t?

These techniques, or treatments, are used together with traditional medical interventions to treat the human response to illness (i.e., reduce stress, reduce pain, increase well-being, enhance immune function, diminish emotional distress, promote rest, or sleep, etc.). For instance, if a pain medication is not working for our patient, we use one of our techniques to help our patient relax, and thus, allow the medication to work fully and, hopefully, with the least amount necessary to alleviate her pain.

Is there research that it benefits patients or are you going based on anecdotal evidence?

There is a multitude of evidence-based literature to support our use of the Integrated Healing Arts. In our electronic medical record at Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center, our care plans have these methods as interventions for the human response to illness based upon evidence-based practice. These plans are reviewed every year with updated evidence. There is strong evidence that the use of the Integrated Healing Arts can improve traditional medical care by assisting the mind, body, and spirit.

What would other facilities or nurses need to do to implement this into their own situations?

You need support from the leadership team, experiential training in these techniques, a policy that supports the use of these Integrated Healing Arts, rounding to support the staff in using these techniques, and sharing of successful stories to assist the culture in believing that these techniques actually work.

What else haven’t I asked you about regarding your use of Aromatherapy and Healing Arts that you think is important to know?

We know the biological impact of stress or negative emotions can decrease immunity and increase our chances of becoming ill, and once we are ill, not allow us to heal. These Integrated Healing Arts all help ourselves as caregivers, allowing us to be present and get our nurses back to the bedside, where they can do what they do best: provide compassionate care for our patients and assist them in their healing process. We also know these techniques can improve our hospital patients’ overall satisfaction with their care.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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