"You Are The Medicine" - Volunteering with Hospice

Can you imagine meeting someone in their last six months of life? They’ve lived an entire life that you know nothing of. You walk in to be with this human, to see him or her, to be curious about this life that has been lived and is now closing. You have such a different experience of this person than everyone else in his or her life. You’re being welcomed into this significant transition time. This is what we get to do as Companion Volunteers with Hospice.

I have been volunteering with Signature Hospice in Portland, OR for about two years now. They offer amazing support for their patients, volunteers, and staff. From a volunteering perspective, Signature Hospice offers deep support and expressive appreciation to their team of companion volunteers. We start with a high quality three day training where we cover the details of HIPPA, ethics, spirituality, our own beliefs, and how to care for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. We meet and connect with our Spiritual Care Coordinators and other volunteers who have been with Signatures for many years. We ask many questions and talk a lot about boundaries. With a great training under our belts and continued support throughout our volunteering, we go off into the world.

What Is A Companion Volunteer?

As a companion volunteer we can’t help someone eat, stand or bath. We cannot touch medication nor help someone get up if they fall. We are extremely limited in the things we can physically do for someone which is exactly the point. The point of this role is to be present - completely - with someone. We don’t have the option to busy yourself with tasks if you’re uncomfortable. We witness, we love, we spend time, we see this person. That is the doing, and it’s a lot to do.

You Are The Medicine

One thing we learned from the beginning and that has stuck with me since is this idea that “you are the medicine”. My job as a companion volunteer is to be present. To be with someone. I am not fixing or changing anything. It has similarities to the Vipassana meditation experience in that we are asked to be with the present moment, to observe and be in it without reacting, without changing or fixing anything, “as it is”.

As a great manager of many tasks, this is of course the most difficult aspect of the role for me. If someone is screaming out in pain, I can not change their pain, I can be with them in it. Of course we can say this is beautiful and maybe that really helps someone. Maybe it does but not in the fast acting way that pain meds can. Not in a way that may bring the screaming to a stop and subdue the sufferer.

The Actual Work Of It

The actual work of it is not glamorous. There are gems, the shiniest most memorable gems, but we spend a lot of time at the bedside while someone sleeps. In my personal experience, I’ve enjoyed watching many Westerns together, providing Reiki and Massage, holding hands, hearing stories of spouses, families, and travels.

It’s incredibly special that someone allows a stranger to come in at this stage of life. If you’re curious about life, go sit with someone who is dying. You are the student here in the most relaxed of class rooms. This is the human condition. This is my nature and your nature and though our lives look different, birth and death will become each of us. It is our journey to take, it is our passing on to prepare for.

The Actual Love of it

Worth Considering

How do you handle endings? Do you skip to the next song before this one has ended? Do you watch the finishing credits of the movie? Do you leave a relationship at the first sign of trouble? Do you look the other way when you see someone suffering and asking for help?

How do you suffer? Are you able to ask for help? Do you turn inwards? Do you use external distractions? Do you confront the pain, dwell in, feel sorry for yourself? Do you feel sorry for those you know are hurting? Do you fix it - immediately? Do you see it? Are you curious about it

Relief from Anxiety & Stress with Craniosacral Therapy
craniosacral therapy for relieving anxiety

Anxiety & Stress

Anxiety and stress make it difficult for your body and immune system to function normally. Your heart may begin to race, breathing may become constricted and shallow, you may feel your shoulders sneak up towards your ears and you may notice shaking hands, a pounding in your head. Though our stress response is there to protect us and keep us out of danger’s way, a response that lingers can be detrimental to our health over time. We need this response when we are confronting a threat, but we need this response to soften as the threat disperses and this doesn’t always happen.

When we experience a stress response that is sustained over time, the stress hormones continue pumping through our bloodstream and get trapped in the body. The Cortisol in your system suppresses your immune system making you more susceptible to illness. Your body has a hard time repairing damaged tissue because available resources are being used elsewhere. The American Institute of Stress suggests that 60% of human disease and 75% of all doctor visits are for stress-related conditions.

These conditions and symptoms may include:

  • Heart disease

  • Weight gain or weight loss

  • Reduced bone density

  • Psychological and learning symptoms

  • Chronic pain

  • High blood pressure

  • Digestive problems

  • Depression and mental illness

How Craniosacral Therapy can help with Anxiety and Stress related symptoms

Craniosacral Therapy combines energy work and body work. The body work can help release muscles, ligaments, and tendons that are stuck tight or have a limited range of motion. Massage can also help release intense emotions that are held within the tissue.

Craniosacral Therapy (CST) specifically focuses on the cerebral spinal fluid that is pumped throughout the body. This fluid nourishes your central nervous system and transports neurotransmitters and hormones throughout this system. The more stress you experience, the harder this system is forced to work and it’s suggested that the production of this fluid is greatly reduced when under stress.

When you go to a Craniosacral Therapist you may feel a sense of deep relaxation and peace. It is common to feel relief of pain, improved sleep, and a sense of expansion. Seeing a Craniosacral therapist can help address the root cause of one’s anxiety and depression and induce a sense of deep relaxation that has lingering benefits. This work can help restore and re-energize this system.

Stress & Anxiety symptoms that body work and Craniosacral can help relieve:

  • Chronic pain

  • Tight muscles

  • Jaw tensions

  • Emotional distress

  • Insomnia

  • Stress & Anxiety

  • Fear & Doubt

  • Feeling lost or without direction

  • Lack of creativity

If you’re interested in booking a Craniosacral Session with me to get started, you can do so here.

Healing from a Car Accident with Craniosacral Therapy
craniosacral therapy for healing mva

Motor vehicle accidents (MVA’s) account for a large percentage of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI’s) and those who have experienced a TBI may be great candidates for Craniosacral Therapy.

Craniosacral Therapy is a gentle modality that focuses on the flow of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) throughout the body. This fluid nourishes the brain and spinal cord and it is felt as a physical pulse that can be palpated throughout the entire body. Restrictions in the flow of cerebral spinal fluid can result from physical and emotional trauma and restoring a natural circulation can reduce systemic and specific symptoms down the road (and immediately).

Craniosacral & Healing from a Motor Vehicle Accident:

When the body experiences physical trauma such as a collision while driving, the entire nervous system experiences shock and this can take months or years to settle. Often this can detract from productivity and can have lingering negative effects in one’s day to day life. This kind of trauma can also result in compressions and torsions in sutures, muscles, tendons, and ligaments which can impede the flow of cerebral spinal fluid preventing the natural exchange of nutrients and the flushing of toxins throughout the body.

Symptoms associated with MVA’s that Craniosacral Therapy may help relieve include:

  • Pain (chronic & acute)

  • Fear of driving

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Irritability

  • Muscular tension

  • Whiplash

If you’re interested in booking a Craniosacral Session with me to get started, you can do so here.

To learn more about Craniosacral for those who have experienced a motor vehicle accident below are a few more resources.

Benefits of massage at the end of life

We all know we’re going to die but that sure doesn’t make it easier. As a massage therapist and hospice volunteer, I believe that we can offer care to dying people that inspires grace and peace throughout the process of dying. Here’s how:

Physical Comfort

Aches and pains come with old age and as the body grows older, pain can become more prevalent. Massage and energy work can help relieve pain and help someone feel relaxed. It can benefit circulation and swelling (edema).

Loving Touch

Often someone approaching the end of their life may experience touch mostly from medical professionals . There can be a lot of transferring, taking vitals, needles, bathing, and other procedural care. This care often lacks compassion due to overworked staff. Simple compassionate touch can benefit physical and mental well-being significantly. Simple hand holding, applying lotion to hands and feet, a gentle foot or head rub are examples of this kind of touch. Touch without trying to fix or change something. Touch that is loving and intentional. Touch that expresses love, and tells the receiver’s body that it is safe, that he/she is loved, and that you are there with them.

Healing Presence

“You are the medicine” is something I tell myself every time I walk into a client or patient’s room. I am not going in to change or fix something. I am going to hold space, to be with someone where they are, to love and see them completely. I am not there to do. I am there to be with. Be with whatever he/she is experiencing. I leave my plans, my drama, my stresses and excitements in the car.

Therapeutic Tough

Massage for Palliative and Hospice patients can help relieve pain and anxiety. It can offer support that medical staff and even family can’t always offer. This undivided attention can help calm the patient and reduce fear. Loving and present touch is an essential part of one’s care plan. Of course there are considerations that must be made for clients experiencing severe conditions and specific illnesses where touch may not be permitted. It’s important to be knowledgable about the precautions and contraindications.

Craniosacral Therapy for Elderly Clients

Craniosacral Therapy (CST) is a modality that leverages a gentle touch to access deep parts of our body, mind, and spirit. It’s no surprise that this modality really benefits senior clients and people in palliative and hospice care.

The following study can help us understand some of the benefits CST can have for elderly clients: GERIATRIC APPLICATIONS OF CRANIOSACRAL THERAPY: Established allied health professionals’ use of a complementary modality

craniosacral therapy for elderly clients massage alyssa ackerman

Parkinson’s Disease

Patients with Parkinson’s disease who received Craniosacral Therapy reported a decrease in pain and improved comfort. They felt relaxed and experienced an improvement in mobility, balance, and expression. Though results were not permanent, the effects were positive and with continued treatments it’s possible that the benefits could have a longer lifespan. Cranioscral therapy lead to an improved sense of health and reduced rigidity in severely affected patients. Caregivers found that the decline of cognition, lucidity, and perception were slowed for those receiving CST which allowed longer time spent in community. Therapists noted improved passive range of motion, as well.

Post-Stroke and Transient Ischemic Attacks

Those who have suffered from a Stroke and received Craniosacral therapy in this stody reported improved movement, balance, communication, sleep, and digestion.

Gastrointestinal problems & dysphagia

Craniosacral therapy helped relieve digestive symptoms such as hiatal hernias, IBS, gastric reflux, and Crohn’s disease.

Nonspecific outcomes

Therapists noted that their patients, regardless of the presenting health concern, experienced consisten benefits in sleep, stress tolerance, energy, appetite, and focus. It helped clients to take longer, deeper breathes which can have profound effects on the body, mind, and spirit of clients. Clients had improved digestion, decreases in anxiety and depression, and felt an overall increase in general well-being.

Here's how Craniosacral Therapy Can Help

Craniosacral Therapy can help treat or ease the symptoms of the following conditions:

This list is provided by the Upledger Institute and is a partial list. If you’re wondering how CST can help you, contact me.

What is Craniosacral Therapy?

Craniosacral Therapy is a gentle healing modality that we attribute to Dr. Sutherland, an Osteopath from the early 1900’s. Though Dr. Sutherland and later, Dr. Upledger were major movers in developing and spreading this modality, cranial osteopathic medicine dates back thousands of years to cultures of Peru, China, and India.

Craniosacral therapy helps

Reiki Healing for Chronic Pain

If you suffer from chronic pain and are open to trying new modalities in the name of feeling better, Reiki may be a great option. In a Reiki session, the practitioner will lightly lay his/her hands on the client and help the flow of energy move more freely throughout the body.

I know it sounds fluffy but a recent study of the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine reviewed 66 clinical trials on biofield therapies, and concluded that there was strong evidence that these therapies minimized the intensity of pain for hospitalized patients and those with cancer. An additional review of 24 studies, touch therapies were found to reduce pain and that Reiki stood out as the most successful energetic technique involved. (Julie Kusiak)

Reiki can also be extremely beneficial for those healing from invasive surgeries or traumatic experiences that have left some lingering symptoms. The peace and comfort that come from a Reiki session can have lingering effects and can help support a life with less pain and less limitation from such pain.

ReikiAlyssa Ackerman
Benefits of Reiki at the End of Life

Reiki is beneficial throughout life but also at this pivotal transition between life and death. 

Reiki reduces the anxiety and fear that can be associated with growing older or with a terminal diagnosis. This energy work can minimize the side effects of medications and medical procedures and promote an overall relaxation. Whether at home or in a facility the love and peace that Reiki inspires envelop a dying person and his/her family and encourage a sense of presence and compassion among those involved. Though this energy healing will not cure our client at this stage of life, and we are not always aware of its affect, the loving presence and healing touch in which Reiki is shared, can be deeply healing. 

Reiki allows us to better handle the uncertainty of life and death.  We can feel warm, loved, and connected to those around us and to ourselves. It helps us to lift our spirits and accept things as they are. 

Spiritual Healing Through Reiki

Spiritual healing is a wonderful and common result of giving and receiving Reiki. 

The word, "Reiki" translates to "spiritually guided energy" and is a non-religious term. People from all faiths can practice or receive Reiki without having to give up the beliefs they may carry. Reiki often helps to strengthen and support the individual’s religious beliefs and practices.

Reiki can offer a deeply calming experience that can promote and support deeper exploration and soul connection. This form of energy healing has been known to help people let go of spiritual pain and regrets. Reiki can help us remember how to connect with our deeper selves and find love and acceptance for that person. It can help us deepen our compassion and forgiveness towards ourselves but also towards others.