When Mission Hospital started the integrative health care department in 2007, nurses and administration weren’t sure how the program would be received, although “energy-work” modalities like Therapeutic Touch and reiki have become more commonplace in mainstream settings, such as hospitals, hospice and veteran care.
“There was some resistance at the beginning,” says Lourdes Lorenz, a longtime nurse and administrator who was called on to launch the then-new department. “But then the doctors saw how the nurses [who used such complementary therapies] made the patients more comfortable and relaxed.”
Lorenz has been a nurse for 33 years and heads the International Integrative Health Institute in Asheville. At Mission, she started an inpatient and outpatient program that trained nurses in such complementary therapies as Healing Touch, aromatherapy, massage, biofeedback, breath work, acupressure and guided imagery.
Developed by a nurse, Healing Touch is a form of therapeutic energy work in which practitioners consciously use their hands in a heart-centered and intentional way, she explains. Another form of therapeutic energy healing is reiki, founded by a Buddhist monk in the early 1920s.
“The nurses working in the cancer unit were using Healing Touch, and the doctors were pleased because they didn’t have to use as much medication because it calms the patient down,” Lorenz says.
To be certified as a breast cancer center, Mission needed to offer several integrative health therapies for inpatient and outpatient care, she continues. As part of the hospital’s inpatient services, Lorenz trained 450 nurses to use Healing Touch. Many were extremely skeptical at first, Lorenz says, sometimes due to religious beliefs. One nurse said she didn’t agree with the approach, Lorenz recalls. “Confusion comes when they think energy work is performing miracles,” she says. Two years later, that same nurse returned to Lorenz and said, “I didn’t understand, and I do now, and I want to take the class again.”
Lorenz says, “A lot of people walk into the space thinking, ‘I am a healer, I am special.’ [But practices like Healing Touch are] not going to hurt the patient; [they] make them feel better, so why not?”
She saw the new program as an opportunity for educating medical professionals.
Another potential challenge to introducing complementary practices like Healing Touch and reiki is that nursing is very task-oriented, Lorenz says. “Making an intentional presence does not take more time. [You can] get into that space while you are washing your hands: You are concerned not on your agenda but on care for the patient.”
One result has been “nurses who were happier, more present with their patients, [with] statistically [fewer] medical errors,” she says. “And as the director of critical care at several different hospitals before Mission, I saw that pattern across the board. Stress-resilience training is essential for them to increase their awareness.”
Nurse Linda Nall works in the integrative health care department at Mission’s outpatient Cancer Center, where she offers Healing Touch to radiation and infusion-therapy patients. The goal, Nall says, is to provide respite during a stressful time and to teach patients a few tools for self-care and relaxation at home.
“Patients often report a decrease in pain (which oftentimes is neuropathy in hands or feet, or tension held in shoulders), decreased insomnia, decreased nausea and generally ‘feeling better,’” says Nall, who is a certified Healing Touch practitioner and holistic nurse. “Patients look forward to our treatment sessions. Family members are glad to see their loved ones feeling better after their integrative health visit,” Nall says. “When patients are at the end of their treatment, a common comment is, ‘I don’t know how I would have made it through all of this without you.’”
She adds, “We help patients participate in their own self-care and healing.”
Jennifer Dale, president and founder of Asheville Reiki Connections, has been at the forefront of bringing reiki to mainstream facilities. “I like skepticism because it allows [people] to challenge their belief systems,” she says. Dale, who was the prayer chaplain at her church, says, “When someone is skeptical, I am OK with that because I was, too. Then they can try it and make an educated decision on whether it works for them, so we have evidence-based info.”
If a patient sits in the chair and the practitioner places hands on his or her shoulders, Dale says, reiki is not invasive and, usually within a minute, the therapy starts relaxing them.
“I am trying to mainstream reiki in any way that is needed,” she says. She assigns reiki practitioners at Solace Hospice, Animal Haven and UNC Asheville, among other places.
Retired nurse Ruth Ann Hoffman was formally trained at the Healing Touch program of Mission but now works with partners Jane Windle and Suzie Engle at Healing Touch for Health, a service group based in Hendersonville. The group provides Healing Touch in town at Four Seasons Hospice.
“I first became interested in energy medicine when I was a nurse in 1982,” Hoffman says. “People are either immediately receptive about it or politely say, ‘No, thank you.’ A lot of the nurses may have been skeptical at first, but then they would see the results.”
Staff and doctors are supportive at Four Seasons Hospice, and some of the staff partook in the Level 1 training for Healing Touch, she says.
Nurses have seen how it has helped, particularly with patients who are actively dying, Hoffman continues. “There is a lot of deep anxiety about transition, so there is a particular technique within the Healing Touch program to help with that. Even if a person is in a coma state, they relax, there is a change in breathing, and if the family stays in the room, they always get more calm and peaceful themselves as well.”
Some of the nurses experience patients who have been fighting their transition and are uncomfortable, Hoffman says. With Healing Touch they will be able to let go more easily.
Marine veteran Rusti Willis had suffered from chronic severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety for many years. “They put me on everything they could possibly put me on to make it better,” she says.
Then Willis met reiki healer Chris Rinaldi at Helios Warriors, an organization that offers alternative healing methods to veterans. “I decided I was going to make some changes because I wanted to come off the medicine,” says Willis. Reiki helped relieve her anxiety, and, she reports, her depression is 75 to 80 percent under control.
Reiki helps relax the body, and Willis has experienced significant changes. “I can think about what it is I am going to say or how to react [to stressful situations], which is different than with medication, which was more numbing,” she says.
“Oftentimes, when people from more conventional backgrounds are reaching out to complementary therapies, it is because they have exhausted all the avenues and still not receiving relief for any symptoms that are impacting their quality of life,” says Rinaldi, who volunteers four hours a month at Helios.
“I give them an energetic anatomy lesson [that demonstrates] there is more than just a physical body and [that] one of the major flaws in the healing system is that we have specialists for body and mind but don’t really connect the two,” she says. The space between the two, she continues, is often where real relief can happen.
Rinaldi discusses with her clients the tenets of reiki: It can do no harm, and it lets their higher selves guide the healing. She puts the healing process back into patients’ hands so that they’re in charge of their own progress. Helios patients have often tried everything else, she says.
Registered nurse and usui shiki reiki practitioner Donna Stetser says that many people conclude there’s something positive with reiki forms and modalities like Healing Touch. In some teaching hospitals, she says, reiki is standing order for postoperation and preoperation for healing and reducing pain medication.
If a patient wants to receive reiki and herbal remedies while in the hospital, all they have to do is say so to the doctor, and practitioners like Stetser are called in. Because they’re nurses, too, they understand the inner workings of hospitals, she notes.
Stetser has offered reiki at Mission, Park Ridge Health, various hospice services and Highland Farms retirement community in Black Mountain. “Nurses are a bridge for Western medicine to [the less] traditional, and that puts people at ease,” she says.
When she worked at hospice many years ago, there wasn’t a name for energy work, says Stetser. “The doctor would say, ‘Would you just come do what you do? Someone is stuck.’ And within an hour or two, the patient would pass, so it is not scientific results but it is experiential results,” Stetser says.
As Healing Touch and reiki integrate further into mainstream medicine, practitioners hope to reach more people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience the healing felt by these modalities. Dale, for example, says she’d “like to do reiki for inmates at Swannanoa Correctional Facility.”
Meanwhile, Nall puts it this way: “When our patients have a positive response or relief in any way without taking medication, to me, that is the success story.”
Healing Touch for Health
Asheville Reiki Connection