Germany: integrating a holistic medicine approach to palliative care

Categories: Care.

Perhaps, just because this involves understanding human nature from a different perspective, as a composite of interdependent levels of existence: body, mind, emotions and spirit. In our Palliative Care Unit at the University Medicine in Greifswald, Germany, we do not regard holistic medicine techniques as contrary options to conventional medicine but as a complement to enrich the scope of action.

For the last two years, we have been submitting our patients to regular holistic therapy sessions as a complement to the conventional palliative medical treatment. So far, the results have been much more positive than expected, with benefits such as pain relief, psychological comfort, physical and mental relaxation, general stimulation, stress relief, assistance in the release of trauma, and human interaction and contact. 

If we wanted to explain this positive outcome from a holistic medicine point of view, we could easily imply that holistic therapies have access to levels of the being which are generally unavailable to the conventional therapeutic ways. Nevertheless, this has not yet been proven and the results could also be explained in terms of psychoneuroimmunology, based on the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems.

Basically, the main therapeutic tools of our integrative sessions are sound and music, but they are always applied in combination with Reiki, reflexology, aromatherapy, light-chromo therapy, and other alternative medicine techniques which are also supposed to act on our physical and energetic systems by means of resonance.  

Our therapy takes place three times a week in individual or group sessions and around 90% of the patients take part in them. Furthermore, as confrontation with any terminal illness affects not only one person but also the whole family group, patient´s close relatives are always invited to participate in the therapy if they wish. 

On their arrival to our Palliative Care Unit, each new patient is interviewed for an extra holistic therapy anamnesis. From the data collected there, they receive information on the different therapeutic techniques which could meet their needs. Our main goal is that all the options offered represent a safe way of handling physical symptoms and emotional states without unpleasant side effects. As many of the so called “alternative therapies” are not yet well known to the general public, written information about what each therapy is, what a session consists of, and how each therapy can help, is handed to patients. 

Afterwards, each one can decide if they are interested in working with any of these methods or not.  While around 10% of the patients are sceptical and never take part in the sessions, the remaining 90% who start the treatment keep on working regularly, showing not only general improvement in their day-to-day life, but also a growing interest in learning about the different therapeutic techniques, slowly becoming active in their own process of treatment. 

In addition, some interdisciplinary sessions are performed together with other members of our professional team: such as guided imagery visualization read by our psychotherapist in a predesigned setting of light, sound and aroma; creative painting to certain musical pieces and instrument making workshops together with our occupational therapist; or massaging a patient with the correspondent essential oils before a physiotherapy session, among others.

Without underestimating the work carried out by using other basic music therapy techniques such as musical dialogues, improvisation on therapeutic musical scales, or song writing; we find out now that our team has begun an exciting incursion into the field of holistic therapies, discovering slowly their surprisingly broad field of action. 

In the next months, the scope of our work will expand to a weekly workshop of therapy for therapists, to which all members of our clinic staff will be invited to assist and learn some holistic medicine practical self-help tools.