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Complimenting Complementary Therapies

(Fig West Chester, August 2012)

So, let's say, you are undergoing treatment for a serious illness. You are gulping down the slew of medicines prescribed to you and attending every which treatment available to help you fight for your life. But, there is something missing. You are still stressed out -- but, then again, who wouldn't be? You are having a hard time sleeping and are finding it difficult to deal with the realization that you are, in fact, a mortal.

This is when your doc, a friend, or a family member may recommend you seek an additional type of treatment. Like you want another form of treatment, right? But, this one is different. Complementary medicine means exactly what it sounds like. It serves as a "complement" to traditional treatments. So, instead of just undergoing radiation and chemo to fight cancer, you may decide to also undergo Reiki therapy to help you deal with the pain and stress. Or, you may find art therapy a great way to help you cope with the stress of all of the traditional treatments and commiserate with others who are going through similar situations.

Complementary therapies date back more than 2,000 years to when the ancient Chinese believed that treatment of the body could only occur when considerations of attitude, environment, and mind and body were made.

In the forthcoming issue of Fig West Chester, there is a feature on The Chester County Hospital's Art Therapy Program. This group, led by cancer survivor and certified art therapist Sharon DeNault and social worker and fellow cancer survivor Marge Lang, gathers weekly at the Chester County Art Association to heal through the creation of beautiful pieces of artwork.

Dr. Luginbuhl, an oncologist at The Cancer Program at The Chester County Hospital, was Sharon's physician when she first came to the area. Realizing there was no art therapy program, Sharon approached Dr. Luginbuhl about how she could be involved and perhaps start a program for Cancer Program patients.

"I put Sharon in touch with one of our social workers, Marge Lang," explains Luginbuhl. "They took off with the idea quickly making contact with the Chester County Art Association and growing the program into one that has helped and supported many patients as they go through treatment."

"While the medical benefit of complementary therapies is still debatable," adds Luginbuhl, "art therapy, among other complementary therapies, has helped to increase the quality of life for many of my patients. While it's not for everyone, these therapies give patients the chance to express themselves and spend time with others going through similar situations.

Varieties of complementary therapy, in addition to art therapy and Reiki, include meditation, yoga, acupuncture, relaxation exercises, massage, and music therapy, among others. And, they are used for a slew of conditions, not only for coping with terminal illness. At The Chester County Hospital, we offer Reiki therapy free of charge to all patients in the Hospital. If a patient is interested in the therapy to help them relax or to help them deal with pain or anxiety, one of our volunteer nurses, LPNs, unit coordinators, or nurse practitioners will visit them to conduct a 30-minute Reiki session. A doctor's order is not necessary for this therapy; however, it is recorded in the patient record.

Our maternity patients also have the option to receive massage therapy as an inpatient. This is a service provided to enhance the stay of our patients who would like to relax and de-stress before heading home.

As with any medical treatment, there may be risks to these therapies. Be sure to research your practitioner's background before beginning therapy. Also, be sure to check with your physician before beginning therapy for any possible interactions with treatment. It is always best to make them aware of any therapies that you are involved in outside of traditional treatment. This will help to ensure a coordinated and safe care plan.

-- Julie Funk, MS, RD, CDE, LDE

Last Updated: 9/11/2012