Using Holistic Therapy and Aromatherapy in Palliative Care PT1


Hello and welcome to this short blog course in the use of holistic therapy and Aromatherapy in palliative care. Previously I have worked as a nurse and experienced end of life care and the training in the care of end of life of terminally ill patients with cancer and dementia. The observation of suffering of both the patient’s immediate family and other relatives was evident as they watched their loved one succumb to illness was incredibly difficult for me as I did all I could to maintain a warm, compassionate yet professional approach. Observing professional caring staff who provided palliative care as they maintained a professional manner, knowing inside they were feeling deeply upset, was also incredibly difficult; I feel others things and it’s extremely difficult for me not to because even if I shut off my emotions in the moment they emerge with intensity later.

In the West dying and death is not openly talked about, we hide it as we do many other issues that remain in a closet of fear not to be spoken about then without warning what we fear most happens. And it is this feeling of fear which is why such topics as dying and death remain silenced but it lingers quietly driving us with notions of "life's too short" and "you've only one life". These are true statements of fact but we then go onto make unwise choices based on conditioning of infancy "waking up" hopefully when it isn't too late and realising that the life we have is based upon each moment and each breath. And then beginning to move into an appreciation of each breath and each inhale and exhale and realising that with this life we can live purposefully and more fully.

As a nurse I felt limited and constrained but as a therapist I felt I was able to offer much more. I was suffering the complications of mesh injuries but continued to work even though my mind was screaming stop and to aid myself I was utilising all I had available this included aromatherapy essential oils. Carrot seed, Parsley seed and other pungent aromatics were plied to my feet, undiluted, but with great effect. Now in aromatherapy we never use essential oils undiluted but so horrific was the pain I broke the golden rule. Fortunately I did not succumb to any ill effect other than more comfort in my body. As I went about my duties in a nursing home I never once thought that that others would be affected by the aromatic oils until one day a colleague pointed out that I always smelled so nice! Carrot and Parsley seed are not so nice as far as I am concerned – they are pungent!

Yet as I create the Aromatherapy courses I come to consider the palliative care of patients and how aromatherapy and touch could be of value to the patient and give family and relatives some reassurance their loved one is being supported to be as comfortable as possible as they transition through the stages of life to passing onto death. This prompted me to go and research and update my knowledge base and now share with students this section of learning. I had read research into the use of aromatic essential oils in the person with dementia in 2004; Melisa essential oil had shown good results in reducing the agitation of the patient group. Little other research was available at that time. But I know that my personal approach of a quiet, warm and friendly manner was received with smiles from patients and did not go unnoticed by a Grade 6 nurse manager who criticised and scolded me for this. It made no difference I continued to cultivate my manner and attitude as I would rather be approachable and supportive towards others.