There was an article in the local paper the other day (Dominion Post 20/7/12, find it here), criticising the Whanganui District Health Board for deciding to trial a number of “natural therapies” at the local hospital as optional compliments to patients’ usual health care. These therapies include prayer, meditation, massage, and Reiki, and are being offered by local alternative health therapists to patients for free.
I personally think all of these are useful as complimentary health therapies and applaud their introduction, so I find it surprising that this enrichment of hospital health care would be contentious. Yet Victoria University professor Shaun Holt is critical, particularly of Reiki and prayer, stating there is no evidence-based research on their effectiveness. Whanganui District Health Board Member Michael Laws goes a step further calling the decision to trial these therapies in hospital “seriously stupid” and suggesting they are—and like Holt he singles out Reiki in particular—akin to witchcraft.
Contrary to the views expressed by Holt and Laws, Whanganui Hospital is simply keeping up with modern medical practice by introducing a repertoire of complimentary therapies for their patients. According to the American Medical Association, around 42% of U.S. hospitals offer a range of complimentary therapies including massage, meditation, acupuncture, and Reiki, and two thirds offer at least massage[i]. In one Cleveland study, half of their patients (over 1700) opted to receive counselling, spiritual care, touch therapy and/or music or art therapy during their hospital stay, and 93% of the patients who chose to do so reported their therapy “useful”[ii].
Regarding Reiki (what Holt and Laws imply is “akin to witchcraft”), many prestigious institutions including the University College of London hospitals and Southampton University hospitals in the UK; the Cleveland Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Cancer Centre (the largest cancer research centre in the world) and John Hopkins Hospital in the U.S.; and the CGG Clinic in Germany offer Reiki as a complimentary therapy[iii], especially for cancer patients. In parts of the U.S., learning Reiki is part of standard nurse training. Some countries include Reiki treatments in health insurance coverage. I’ve used this article as a starter for an article on Reiki on my mindwork website, so if you are interested in finding out what Reiki is, where it comes from, and how it is used, click here.[iv]
Prayer and attendance to patients’ spiritual needs is also common elsewhere. In the US, about 85% of hospitals employ chaplains.[v] Their role in palliative care—and I can speak from personal experience here—is valuable not only for patients but also for their families, if only in offering comfort and support at a difficult time. Studies have shown that hospital based “spiritual intervention” for the chronically ill significantly increases patient well-being and is valuable for patients during the recovery process[vi].
Meditation is a real wellness powerhouse which can lower stress levels, ease pain, lower blood pressure, increase the body’s immune response, and increase a person’s ability to focus and concentrate. Many US hospitals and clinics now teach patients to meditate[vii]. If you want to know more about meditation, check out my mindwork website page on it here.
Massage, the most common alternative therapy to be found in hospitals, is useful for pain control, stress relief, reducing muscle tension, increasing blood flow, and increasing the range of motion after injury or during convalescence. Besides, it just feels good!
It seems to me that if these therapies are being offered for free, and patients are free to take advantage of them or not as they wish, and they do not impact on whatever “official” medical treatment the patient is receiving, then Whanganui should be rejoicing at the enrichment of their hospital treatment for patients. No one expects these treatments to replace modern allopathic medicine, yet as Andrew Schafer, chief physician at the Cornell Medical Centre in New York observes, “Today’s complimentary and alternative therapies could be tomorrow’s medical breakthroughs.”[viii]
[iv] You might also find this article on Reiki being used in hospitals interesting: http://www.reiki.org/reikinews/reiki_in_hospitals.html