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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A New Tool in the Hospice Toolbox

“Complementary and Alternative Medicine generally refers to using treatments outside of the mainstream medical model that promote balance and general well-being of body, mind and spirit,” said Deb Stalsonburg, RN, residence manager of Trillium Woods, the Faith Hospice residence in Byron Center. “Faith Hospice has begun offering a number of complementary therapies including aromatherapy and healing touch.”

These therapies offer a gentler approach using natural products (many found in nature; such as plants, flowers, spices) or techniques from ancient traditions across the globe that focus on the interconnectedness of body, mind, emotion, spirit, social-cultural, relationship, context, and environment. These non-pharmacologic tools and practices help reduce the physical discomforts of the end of life process including pain, nausea, shortness of breath, anxiety and agitation. They may reduce or alleviate feelings of depression, fear, isolation, disorientation, confusion, loss of control, loss of independence and loneliness. They support spiritual beliefs and practices for people of all faith traditions.

“A registered nurse initiates the therapy,” Stalsonburg said, “and any trained member of our inter-disciplinary team can continue it.”


Aromatherapy uses essential oils derived from plants leaves, flowers, grasses, fruits, wood and bark to provide relief from stress, anxiety, pain, depression, agitation and other symptoms that may occur. Aromatherapy enhances the harmony and well-being of mind, body and spirit.
“Essential oils may be applied to the skin, inhaled or diffused through the air,” said Stalsonberg. They are useful in alleviating pain, restlessness, insomnia, nausea, anxiety and depression, as well as enhancing relaxation.
For instance, lavender oil has multiple applications and can be used to aid in relaxation or to combat insomnia or restlessness. Peppermint oil is useful in easing nausea and orange essential oil is helpful in cases of anxiety or nervousness.

Healing Touch

Healing Touch is an energy therapy in which practitioners consciously use their hands in a heart-centered and intentional way to support and facilitate physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. The goal of Healing Touch is to restore balance and harmonies in the energy system and has been shown to reduce pain and anxiety, relieve tension and stress, facilitate relaxation and support the dying process.

Healing Touch is performed with the patient fully clothed. The provider gently places their hands slightly above the individual or touches them lightly. Gentle touch assists in balancing your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Healing Touch was founded in 1989 as a continuing education program for nurses, massage therapists, other health care professionals and lay persons and has since spread internationally. It is taught in universities, medical schools and nursing schools.

Helping Patient and Family

Faith Hospice chaplain, Lee Ausema, recently met with a patient and their family at Trillium Woods. “I prayed with the family and anointed each with an oil blend created to promote peace and calm. The family experienced the spiritual significance of the anointing and benefitted from the soothing aroma that filled the room,” said Ausema. “At the visitation, the family commented on the spiritual significance of being anointed as a family, the peace they experienced and the beautiful memory created from the love that was shared.”

Faith Hospice will be adding other complementary therapies including Korean hand therapy, massage therapy and music therapy. “They give us another tool to use to help keep our patients as comfortable as possible,” said Stalsonburg.