NORTH CONWAY--The touch of a human hand has long conveyed feelings of caring, comfort and support. It's a natural instinct to reach out and touch someone who is in physical or emotional pain. Now, Memorial Hospital is joining many prestigious hospitals using integrative therapies such as Reiki to bring patients a greater sense of peace, relaxation and comfort during their hospital stay or treatment.
Michelle Keenan, MS is the program coordinator and a Reiki Master, as well as the hospital's coordinator of Heart Health and Wellness Services. With more than 25 years of healthcare experience, she has become a passionate advocate for the value, power and difference that integrative therapies can make. Keenan worked with Memorial's Integrative Health Committee to educate staff and introduce opportunities for patients to focus on themselves in the busy hospital environment.
"We want people to know that we care about how they feel – both physically and emotionally – when they're here," Keenan said. "I believe that Reiki offers a way to bring comfort into a patient's life during a difficult time. Approaches such as Reiki and Guided Imagery can help balance the tension of the clinical setting by focusing on deep relaxation and stress reduction."
Reiki is an ancient Japanese energy technique that can lower anxiety, improve sleep, reduce pain and increase feelings of well-being. It complements medical treatment, but doesn't replace it or interfere with medications or procedures, and may also help support the body's own natural ability to heal.
Keenan says the response to date has been very positive. "We piloted the project for three months in the Medical-Surgical unit, and patients found it extremely relaxing," she said. "They felt it was something special just for them." She also said that nursing staff and providers have been very supportive of the project, and it has recently been introduced for oncology patients receiving treatment.
According to the American Hospital Association, more than 15% of American hospitals now offer Reiki as a hospital service for inpatients, outpatients, family members and staff. Evidence-based research is showing that Reiki can be especially effective as a healing modality in the areas of stress, anxiety, chronic pain and self-care.
Many major health centers were early adapters of integrative services including the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Children's Hospital and Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and Maine Medical Center.
In New Hampshire, Reiki is available at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center. Visiting Nurse, Home Care & Hospice of Carroll County and Western Maine offer Reiki for their clients receiving palliative and hospice care services.
Sessions are currently available to inpatients, oncology and surgical patients on request, as well as to family members. Reiki practitioners are trained and certified volunteers who come to the patient's room for the session. This service is provided by Memorial's Volunteer Services at no cost.
In addition to Reiki, a technique known as Guided Imagery has been introduced for Memorial's patients. Based on the concept that the mind and body are connected, this therapeutic approach uses soothing music and a calming voice to guide a person into a more relaxed state with a focus on healing.
Keenan said Guided Imagery is safe and can offer patients a great sense of control over their thoughts and emotions during difficult times. She added that the Integrative Health Committee is looking at additional services for patients such as gentle massage.
"If we can bring a sense of calm to the busy healthcare environment, we can help reduce the anxiety, pain and discomfort of our patients," she said. "Current research on the use of integrative therapies is showing that patients often require less pain medications, have shorter hospital stays and improved surgical outcomes."
Reiki and Guided Imagery sessions can be arranged by patients, family members or providers by calling the program coordinator at 356-4949 x2180.
Ironically, more than 20 years before she would put into motion the founding of Memorial Hospital, Helen Bigelow Merriman penned a book in 1888 titled, "What Shall Make Us Whole: Thoughts in the Direction of Man's Spiritual and Physical Integrity."
Mrs. Merriman was keenly interested in the relationship between healing and a person's inner well-being. She wrote, "Surely the physician's art is, or should be, the art of health rather than the art of sickness." Today, more than 100 years after the opening of the hospital Mrs. Merriman helped create, the commitment to the health and well-being of Memorial's patients is as important as ever.
Memorial Hospital's program coordinator and Reiki Master provides patients with a greater sense of peace and relaxation during their hospital stay.(KATHY BENNETT PHOTO)