The Most Popular Therapies
The researchers identified five relevant qualitative studies: 3 investigated massage, 1 investigated reflexology, and 1 investigated aromatherapy. The study cohort included 83 participants, 70 were female, and all had advanced cancer. Three studies were from Sweden and 2 from the United Kingdom. Treatment settings were hospices, nursing homes, the patients’ homes, and an oncology ward. Nurses and a reflexologist provided the complementary therapies along with authors of the studies who were trained in complementary therapy. Most of the data was collected through one-on-one interviews; one study used focus groups and one used self-reported questionnaires.
Experiences During Complementary Therapy
The participants overwhelmingly reported deriving positive effects on their well-being from the complementary therapy. The interventions were described as calming and relaxing, leaving participants feeling healthier with less negativity and fewer physical symptoms. 1 Participants in 4 of the studies reported feeling empowered, whole, important, special, dignified, and good about themselves. Participants in 3 of the studies described feeling a sense of floating away and experiencing an awakening. They felt that the complementary therapy relieved their anxiety, allowing them to focus on the present. They had a feeling of escapism from their disease and an impression of inner peace.1
All the participants found the therapy to be a positive and pleasurable experience. They enjoyed the physical touching. They felt it was “luxurious.” One participant noted that it felt like a reward for enduring such an illness. All of them liked the interactions with their therapists, which was one reason they kept returning for treatments. They could talk comfortably with the therapist in a relaxed setting.
The complementary therapy was thought of as an escape from disease and anxiety that often gave them hope for the future. Participants felt that each session built on the one that came before, and they benefitted from the cumulative effect.
The researchers call for future trials of complementary therapy in palliative care to identify the ideal methods and to reflect patients’ wishes.
1. Armstrong M, Flemming K, Kupeli N, Stone P, Wilkinson S, Candy B. Aromatherapy, massage and reflexology: a systematic review and thematic synthesis of the perspectives from people with palliative care needs. Palliat Med. 2019;33(7):757-769.
2. Atkin N, Vickerstaff V, Candy B. ‘Worried to death’: the assessment and management of anxiety in patients with advanced life-limiting disease, a national survey of palliative medicine physicians. BMC Palliat Care. 2017;16(1):69.
3. Kemppainen LM, Kemppainen TT, Reippainen JA, Salmenniemi ST, Vuolanto PH. Use of complementary and alternative medicine in Europe: health-related and sociodemographic determinants. Scand J Public Health. 2018;46(4):448-455.