Photo courtesy of Christiana Hospital
Delaware nurses say integrative health care—like reiki, aromatherapy and Healing Touch—continues to grow in popularity at their mainstream medical practices.
“OK, close your eyes and envision your happy place.”
I let my eyes drift shut at the direction of Stacy Noel, a nurse at Christiana Hospital in Newark who’s performing Healing Touch therapy.
All is quiet, except for the recording of a soft flute melody floating through the air. The pleasant smell of peppermint wafts toward me. I feel a gentle, steady pressure on my shoulder—the comforting, familiar sensation of two warm hands—and I begin to think of my grandparents’ house. The hands move slowly to my forehead, and I feel the muscles in my body begin to unclench, the tension in my skull unfurling. For a split second, I fight the urge to cry, but I’m not sad.
In just a few minutes, it’s over—and I feel calmer. Noel passes me an aromatherapy inhaler, a positive affirmation on a piece of paper and a tiger’s-eye sensory stone for anxiety. She tells me rubbing the stone with my finger will activate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce my stress. She also gives me resources: a pamphlet on how to ground, one on mindfulness meditation and another detailing how to perform Healing Touch. These all come from her “caring cart,” which she pushes around whichever of the four campuses she’s reported to that day.
Noel is the integrative care nursing manager and reiki master at ChristianaCare. Her job is rare—out of all 4,500 hospitals in the United States, there are only 50 to 55 with integrative care nursing programs like this one. Christiana Hospital is also Magnet designated, meaning it’s achieved an international gold standard for nursing excellence. “When you see a hospital has a Magnet designation, you know that those nurses work in a wonderful environment, and that they’re the ones that really help to transform health care,” Noel says.
She has worked as a nurse for over 25 years, but after the first 15, she met another nurse who “changed everything” by encouraging her to incorporate integrative health care into her practice.
So, what is integrative health care? Referred to as “alternative health care” by some, it includes practices like meditation, aromatherapy, yoga therapy, mindfulness, chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, reiki and Healing Touch. Noel points out that medical professionals are doing away with the word “alternative.” “All these different modalities that we’re using are integrated into the care of the patient,” she explains. “They’re not something we do as an alternative.”
Noel first learned how to do reiki, a Japanese energy therapy used to reduce stress and promote healing. Next, she learned Healing Touch, which has been heavily researched. “I get so smiley about [this],” she says. “It was actually created by a nurse here in the United States. …When she created Healing Touch, she mirrored it after our nursing profession.”
With light touches or no touch at all, caregivers (and even patients) can learn to clear congestion and disruptions in one’s energy field. “It can decrease the length of hospital stays; decrease pain, nausea and anxiety; and improve general well-being,” Noel says.
She provides integrative health care to both patients and fellow nurses, and is also teaching classes to colleagues at ChristianaCare. So far, 75 caregivers—the vast majority of them nurses—have attended, with an exponentially growing number signing up for future classes. Subsequently, those caregivers then teach patients to perform Healing Touch on themselves. “It therefore empowers that patient in their self-care process, and the patient feels very included,” Noel explains.
ChristianaCare isn’t the only hospital system in Delaware incorporating integrative health care into everyday practices. Christina Russell, a nurse for over 25 years and the Healing Touch coordinator in the integrative medicine department at Nemours, has focused on integrative work for the past 4 1/2 years. She was immediately hooked: “I could feel things occurring in my physical body, but nobody was touching me physically,” she says of her initial experience.
Now, Russell provides many of the same services as Noel, including individualized yoga therapy sessions for patients, especially those with chronic pain. “I tailor it to them and whatever their body is able to do,” she explains. Russell helps a wide range of patients, including those struggling with an eating disorder, experiencing migraines or undergoing cancer treatment. She also works with caregivers or family members of patients, as well as newborns.
She emphasizes how integrative health care can help a patient become more resilient and able to cope with their symptoms long after their session has ended—especially those with chronic pain. ‘That’s maybe going to be for their whole lives,” she says. “So, they have to learn how to help themselves in those tough times.”
Russell has big hopes for the future of integrative health care, which she thinks should be covered by insurance in many cases. “I hope that more facilities and medical providers learn and understand that healing the whole person and seeing them as a whole person—mind, body and spirit—and not just the physical body, will help them heal faster and for longer periods of time,” she says.