Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Role of a Massage Therapist in End of Life Care

The end of life can be an extremely scary and stressful time. Massage therapy is one of the ways Arbor Hospice provides care for the whole person, relieving physical, emotional and spiritual distress, and offering comfort. The role of the massage therapist includes:

  • Be a healing presence. Massage therapists bring forth something that comes from deep within--their ability to be present. Rather than revert to prescribed techniques, therapists must trust the simplicity of human compassion and their capacity to offer it to another. A therapist’s best resources when serving the dying person doesn't come from the techniques they’ve studied but from within their own hearts. They become the space-holder, allowing the dying person his/her own process and experience, and sometimes serve as an anchor for family members and other caregivers.
  • Enhance the quality of life. Doing what is called for to ease any form of discomfort is the best approach to take. One minute a therapist might be offering a gentle foot massage or holding a hand and the next, moisten dry lips or help turn someone on their side to make breathing easier. Mother Teresa once said, "Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work." Hospice service is about doing the humble work each moment as it unfolds.

Moving a part of the body for positional change and to ease pressure is a good technique to implement. Change the adjustment of the bed or add supportive pillows under the arms or legs. Mindfully adjust the pillows under the head. Lifting a part of the body and holding it up for a moment relieves pressure.

Therapists must be willing to let go of their idea of what a “regular” session looks like. A session with a dying person may include gentle massage, focused touch or no touch at all. The length of a session varies according to what is called for at the time. The key is sound clinical judgment but also letting the rules go to truly serve the person. Confidence in skills is what allows the therapist to listen to inner guidance and respond accordingly. The patient may simply need someone to compassionately hold a hand or the feet while focusing attention on the inner wholeness of the person. Sometimes massage therapists have to stop doing and simply BE.

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