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Complementary Healthcare Information Service - UK

A Healing Journey

Article written by Angie Buxton-King

A Healing Journey                 Angie Buxton-King

So what is Healing? Every therapist will have their own interpretation of their therapy however I'm happy to share my simplistic view!

Healers have an understanding that we have a physical body surrounded by an energy field .When we become unwell physically, emotionally or mentally this has an unbalancing effect on our energy field. A healer channels energy through his or her hands and by the gentle placement of hands on the physical body (or just above it)  facilitates  the rebalancing of the  energy field which in turn  may ease symptoms physically, mentally and emotionally '.

For 12 years I was employed by University College London Hospital (UCLH) as a healer working with cancer patients as part of an integrated holistic package of care. In 2003 I was promoted to the post of manager/healer of the complementary therapy team, leading the acceptance and development of healing and other complementary therapies within the trust. I have spoken at many medical and holistic conferences at home and abroad since and in 2004 my first book the NHS Healer' was published by Virgin Books. In 2006 my husband Graham and I created our charity The Sam Buxton Sunflower Healing Trust (SBSHT) to facilitate more healers to work with cancer patients .We are very proud to have funded 26 healers to date at hospitals in the UK.

In 2008 we created a Community Interest Company that is asset linked into our charity. It is named The Guild of Professional Healers to represent those healers who wish to work professionally and to create a body of healers that embraced the different modalities of healing within one organization i.e. Energy Healers, Reiki Healers and Spiritual Healers.

Here in lies the rub and the source of much conflict .So much so that I have studiously avoided airing my views on the differences and focused more on the similarities.

Healers do not under any circumstance diagnosis specific medical problems, but aim to treat the individual, with a view to alleviating physical, emotional and spiritual distress.

The similarities are that all three named here are based on energy, love and compassion, now who could ague with that! Therefore it follows that the benefits will be the same for all three. In the simplest terms that will be relaxation .What comes from that relaxation though will be many faceted and it would be foolish to generalize .My Clinical experience informs me that the benefits can be seen on many levels ,emotional physical and spiritual and if it is meant €“on all three.

The experience of personal tragedy has provided me with the will and motivation to spread the belief that Healing can provide a very useful support to people struggling with health issues. Many of us will have the understanding that our emotions can have an impact on our physical self .Think of some of the expressions we use, 'Sick to my stomach, Broken hearted, Gut churning', the list is endless. It therefore follows that many people who are out of balance physically, emotionally or mentally may benefit when their energy is balanced by a healer.

It is my personal experience with my late son Sam during his illness (1995-1998) that continues to drive me to help provide a healing service at what I like to call 'the coal face'. Now that I am no longer at UCLH my focus will continue to be opening doors for other therapists to work within statutory settings

Working within the NHS as a healer has been extremely fulfilling (when working with patients) and immensely frustrating when dealing with financial managers and HR processes, but nothing I have experienced before or since is as fulfilling as working with someone at the bedside, delivering a therapy that they would otherwise not have thought of using, and seeing the wonderment in their eyes and asking, 'When are you coming back?'

Complementary therapy has come a long way since the House of Lords report in 2000 which placed healing as a complementary therapy in group 2 alongside counselling, reflexology, aromatherapy and massage to name some of the therapies that are commonly used in cancer centres.

In 1995 when my youngest son Sam was seven he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.  I already knew quite a bit about the complementary therapies available to cancer patients and more importantly I knew how to provide healing as a therapy €“it's very empowering to be able to do something for yourself and your loved one at a challenging time for the whole family.

Sam died in 1998 aged 10 but I know that the healing he received not only prolonged his life but also made those three years much easier for him to cope with than he would have otherwise and therefore by proxy easier for us as a family.

Since then I have felt very motivated to spread the knowledge that healing is a very beneficial and supportive tool when used alongside conventional medicine.

My clinical experience within the hospital setting allows me to say that the therapy can be used to assist in the management of:

  •   Anxiety management
  •   As a pain management strategy
  •   As a supportive measure through unpleasant and/or painful procedures e.g. lumbar puncture, bone marrow aspirate, liver biopsy
  •   To reduce chemotherapy/radiotherapy gut disturbance
  •   To reduce nausea and vomiting
  •   To reduce pain associated with sore mouth
  •   To engender a sense of control
  •   To enhance compliance with treatment regimens
  •   To enhance coping
  •   To enhance the immune response
  •   To improve quality of life
  •   To increase self-esteem
  •   To increase confidence
  •   To assist the patient in the dying process.

For me it's all about the patients, and offering them different avenues of support. In the latest cancer plan  it suggests that appropriate supportive  therapies should be available to cancer patients .Unfortunately no money is set aside for this and it isn't mandatory ,therefore supportive therapies are  not yet commonly  available for cancer patients  .I along with my fellow trustees believe that any future  cancer team should include complementary therapies in the package of care but realistically the money may not be available through the NHS budget unless we prove a need first €“hence the work of my charity. www.cancertherapies.org.uk

Dr Anil Wijetunge Bsc, MBBS, FRCA  offers this patient insight.

'After I qualified from University College London and Middlesex Medical School in 1988, I spent 12 years working as a junior doctor in both medical specialties and anaesthetics.  In none of this time had I ever come across healers in the NHS even though I had worked for 18 months in medical oncology, haematology and radiotherapy in large London teaching hospitals. In fact, to be honest, if anyone had suggested that a healer had come to see one of my patients I would have been sceptical at least, if not openly hostile to the idea. Such was my commitment to the principles of conventional and evidence-based medicine as the only effective sources of treatment. My medical training had focused on the pathology, clinical features, treatment and management of disease. That management did not include how to address the patient's sense of wellbeing or how to deal with their emotional and psychological turmoil and distress when they were ill, nor how to help them manage when no medical treatment could effectively control their pain. I perhaps naively believed that in comparison to the pathology of diseases I had studied these vague and poorly defined needs were usually met by nursing care, visits of family members, hospital chaplains or workers in other faiths or for the patient to manage as best as they could in their own way. Addressing these needs were not a major concern in the medical management plan.

In 2005 I had been working as a consultant anaesthetist for five years when I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. As soon as I was diagnosed my initial disbelief turned to the realisation that my life was on hold and in the balance with a less than 50% chance of surviving five years with the treatment available. This treatment was to consist of three cycles of intensive chemotherapy followed by total body irradiation and a stem cell transplant if a suitable donor was found.  In fact it was very nearly all over in the third week of the first chemotherapy cycle when I was admitted to the intensive care unit with neutropaenic septic shock . This was a time filled with intense physical pain and discomfort. After one week I had improved sufficiently to resume and complete the first cycle of chemotherapy. Some of the chemotherapy, for example intramuscular asparaginase, caused extreme pain on administration. By this time I had lost 25 kg body weight which fell from around 75 to 50 kg. I could hardly walk and my clothes hung off me after I finally got dressed to go home. I knew that while modern medicine and excellent clinical care had saved my life, I had in a very short time to return for the second cycle of treatment with a different combination of powerful anti-cancer drugs. I did not know how I would get through the second cycle of treatment having come close to not surviving the first one and I was also now in poor physical shape.

The second cycle of treatment took place at University College Hospital. This five week cycle of treatment resulted in my staying in hospital for nearly six months as I suffered a series of unpleasant complications. While they were all managed as best as possible using conventional practice and are the sort of things that can affect any cancer patient; there was a large amount of pain, discomfort and also quite often it was unclear what exactly caused these complications and how best to treat them. These problems included Hickman line infections that spread to the chest wall requiring plastic surgery, dozens of painful, inflamed golf-ball sized eruptions all over the body that required surgical debridement and a kneecap bone that died. The last was extremely painful which no amount of morphine could control. From one day to the next I did not know what would happen or how I would cope. My partner was doing her best to support me while also distressed as she saw what was happening to me. In addition she was looking after our daughter who was just three months old when I was initially diagnosed, with only occasional help from her family who lived a long way off. Their visits to me were limited by my clinical and immune state.

 

This was when I first encountered the complementary therapy team, though I had experienced some aromatherapy massages in the previous treatment at the Hammersmith Hospital which I had always looked forward to. At University College Hospital there were two reflexologists, a counsellor and two Reiki healers. They all played invaluable roles in providing me with help to manage the discomfort, pain, distress and uncertainty. The counsellor was someone I could say exactly how I felt and speak openly to, sharing my concerns in a way that was not possible even with closest family where a positive and optimistic outlook was the norm. The reflexology provided a way of relaxing and moments of comfort and was used especially before procedures like Hickman line insertion. The Reiki healing was entirely new to me. I had never heard of it before. The nurse asked me one morning if I wanted to see Graham. After telling me that he was a healer who saw patients on the haematology unit, I felt I was already in so much discomfort I had nothing to lose. When Graham came into my room I saw a very ordinary looking man who briefly introduced himself then spoke little only saying in response to my question that he would simply hold his hands just above me, barely touching me and I should lie there in my pyjamas on the bed closing my eyes. He adjusted the height of the bed as he spoke after putting some relaxing music on and then he began. I had a whole collection of relaxing music that I had played and was rather tired of listening to.

As soon as he started with his hands over my head I was amazed at how hot they felt. I could feel their presence even though they hardly touched me. It was a very pleasant, comforting heat. He didn't speak at all now, just music in the distance and heat. My restless mind that rushed from one thought to the next gradually slowed and calmed as I was vaguely aware of his hands moving down over my face, neck and chest. Now I felt I was no longer in that isolation room but moving through a most beautiful garden full of light, colour and peace. A powerful sensation more than a detailed reality. All was calm and there was no discomfort or pain now. My mind and body were both completely relaxed and I felt genuine happiness. His hands moved over my abdomen and legs to the soles of my feet, pausing at each place for about a minute before moving on. It was my first experience of real pleasure for a very long time. Graham never attempted to explain the healing to me and made little comment when I told him how much better I felt afterwards saying only that he would return next week if I wished.

After the first session of healing I looked forward to it every week as it was my main source of relief from the distress and physical pain I was experiencing. It greatly improved my mood and sense of well-being.  After one session when I had been particularly low I was in tears at the end of treatment. Tears of relief and release of tension. I felt much better and was told this is quite common. I was also warned that I might notice a part or parts of my body jerking during the healing which again was normal and I did notice this with my leg that had the painful kneecap. In this treatment all of the pain I experienced in that knee was taken away.

The healing was a revelation to me and the missing part of my treatment. Modern nursing care is very technical and laden with documentation and checks to complete. In the haematology care I experienced, while giving excellent care the nurses did not have the time to stop for very long and talk, or even just to hold my hand when in severe pain or discomfort as they were so busy fulfilling the conventional nursing care tasks that have to be done. Healing was also available to family members and my partner was helped a lot by it. I am aware that there are different types of healing though they may all involve a similar underlying 'energy' principle. Defining and describing this particular type of energy is difficult and we do not appear to have the understanding, terminology or language within modern science to do this yet. However I can say that I was most definitely helped by it in a way that modern medicine could not help.

I found that in an ever-changing, stormy landscape that was a jigsaw puzzle of medical treatments and procedures, unpleasant side-effects, tests, body scans, biopsies, painful complications and uncertainty about the future or what tomorrow would bring or even if I would see it; healing was a constant, providing me with a place of refuge, calm and beauty. It was the missing piece that completed my care as I went on to finish my treatment with a successful stem-cell transplant in 2006.

There are now many hospices as well as oncology units that benefit from the presence of healers providing healing to patients as well as relatives and staff. Children in cancer units are also helped, for example when it comes to enabling intravenous cannulation. Haematologists and oncologists whose patients have access to healing are aware of the benefits. Certainly more evidence would help to raise its status with sceptical parts of the medical community and tools to help provide this are improving. As in any walk of life, there are some unscrupulous people and dubious practices. There are also types of healing that I am unfamiliar with and cannot comment on.  Reputable, trained healers who follow a strict ethical code of conduct and maintain continuing professional development can be accessed via the Sam Buxton Sunflower Healing Trust or the Guild of Professional Healers. This would be a reliable place to seek further information.

Medical treatment is very focused on the mechanisms of disease and pharmacology of drugs that will treat them, however providing a sense of well-being that deals with the emotional and mental turmoil during illness is virtually absent in the management plan. There are many mentally and physically unwell  people whether in hospital, at home or in the GP surgery who may well benefit from healing. It should be made available to them just as any other medical treatment is. It is low cost and low tech compared to any other type of treatment. Some doctors may recognise the lack of resources available to address these aspects of care for their patients or might even have experienced illness themselves where their mental state or symptoms could have been helped by healing . The medical community should follow the lead set by units that already use healers and get up to date with a therapy that has been around for thousands of years. Just because it is something that does not conform to our understanding in conventional medicine and the evidence base is only slowly evolving, instead of dismissing it we should keep an open mind, become more informed and listen to the patients who have benefitted from it and consider if our patients might similarly be helped. We owe it to our patients if we are seriously interested in providing them with holistic care'.

Anil would have been seen by a healer on the ward at least twice a week, more if he was in a great deal of pain, which at times he was. He would have received healing for 30 minute sessions which would have continued to be available to him when he returned as an outpatient following his successful treatment. I believe it to be very important to offer therapy whilst the patient is continuing to attend the hospital for blood tests .It is extremely stressful retuning week after week for a blood test that in the worst case scenario might show that you have relapsed. Healing can be hugely beneficial at this stage of the cancer journey.

 

As with much complementary therapy, formal research is thin on the ground. However Graham and I are co investigators of a randomised Control Trial at UCLH conducted specifically on Reiki healing. It has been a difficult and lengthy process, but ethical and R&D approval has been gained and the trial began in June 2010. Over the three years that this trial has been planned one of the things that surprised me most was that the consultants at UCLH didn't feel we needed to conduct this type of research as they knew that what we did benefited their patients' .The most surprising thing of all however has been the opposition from fellow therapists with whom we have had discussions along the lines of my healing is better than your healing type conversations'!

 

The trial has been designed with the haematology nursing research team and is a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) to examine the effects of Reiki on patient quality of life and the effects of Reiki on the immune system. This ground-breaking trial will attempt to recruit more than 100 patients over the next two years.

 

I'm  keenly aware that both Graham and I need to share the information gathered over the past years working in the NHS to allow other therapists the opportunity to develop  the skills required to work safely and competently within a statutory setting .To help achieve this we created our unique course for therapists  Delivering complementary therapy in a statutory setting'. The course covers:

 

  • How to prepare approach and present yourself to hospitals etc.

    (What experience and qualifications do you have that will enable you to do this work)

  • How to describe CT to conventional medics and nursing staff

    (Whatever your therapy is you are going to have to describe it repeatedly to   

       patient's medics and nursing teams so practise this now!)

  • What language can we as therapists usefully use

(Bridging language can make or break your career in this setting)

  • Simple Anatomy

(Yes even healers need to know where the vital organs are)

  • Infection Control

     (You are a risk to patients and they to you €“do you know how to protect the patient

      and yourself from infection?)

  • Measuring your outcomes (You are pioneers so gathering an evidence base is important )
  • The importance of VSR and clinical supervision( Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council and supervision as a supportive tool)
  • Who will fund me?

(The NHS - unlikely so we need to be creative on how to fund ourselves)

 

Alongside my work in the NHS I have always maintained a private practice .The use of healing is of benefit in many areas of health, most notably in the stress related illness arena and in metal and emotional health. The main physical difference in working privately is that you can take an hour to deliver a treatment and the environment is geared to healing.

Other than that most therapists will be working intuitively as I do at home and in the hospital so the energy and response to the energy will be as varied as it at the hospital bedside .Of course its nice to be able to burn lovely oils, light a candle and have more chance for a conversation that may help the client release, but it is not necessary to have any of these things in place for the session to be beneficial. Patients /clients in both settings report feeling energy moving within their bodies ,seeing bright colours and twitching and movement as their energy rebalances .It is very common for a client to grab hold of my hands and exclaim Oh but how can they feel cold when I felt such heat?'

There is no one tool fits all' for healthcare, however my passion is that by providing conventional medicine and complementary therapy alongside each other we can facilitate a more holistic path to be taken by the client /patient .We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater' but allow people to choose for themselves how they wish to approach their health care.

Please contact me at angie22@cancertherapies.org.uk  or call 01502 726 029 if I can be of any help in your Healing Jouney.

About the author:

Angie Buxton-King is a Healer, Reiki Master, Tutor and a Director of The Sam Buxton Sunflower Healing Trust. Since 2004 following the publication of her first book; The NHS Healer; Angie has been the invited key note' speaker at many medical and holistic conferences. She is an experienced Trainer and co creator of unique courses for self development such as, Delivering Complementary Therapy in a Statutory Setting and Healing in Hospitals & Hospices workshops.

 

In 1999 Angie was employed by University College London Hospital (UCLH) as a Spiritual Healer to deliver healing to cancer patients as part of an integrated, holistic package of care. In 2003, she was promoted to manager of the complementary therapy team at UCLH, leading the acceptance and development of healing and other complementary therapies within the trust. Angie and her husband, Graham, are  founders of The Sam Buxton Sunflower Healing Trust (SBSHT) which was created in memory of Angie's son Sam, who was diagnosed in 1995 aged seven with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and who  benefited enormously from healing before he died in 1998 aged 10.

 

SBSHT has provided funds to cancer centres within the NHS (26 healers to date) to enable cancer patients to receive healing free of charge at their hospital bedside when they need support most. Angie and Graham have created Spiritual Healing Training and Reiki Training that complies with National Occupational Standards.

Website:   www.cancertherapies.org.uk

copyright © Angie Buxton-King

 

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