I have been proud to work as a volunteer reflexology practitioner and mindfulness teacher at The Mary Stevens Hospice in Stourbridge. There is a growing volume of evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness for patients, their families and those working in the end of life care environment.
The Trish Bartley book, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Cancer: Gently Turning Towards, explores a Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for cancer care. This eight-week course has been tried and tested over ten years of clinical use. Bartley believes
“mindfulness is a way of being more present and aware. This offers us many opportunities to appreciate life more. It also enables us to respond more gently to what we find difficult, and by doing this we often find that we experience changes”
A study in 2008 (Chadwik et al) found that mindfulness was beneficial to people with terminal cancer both physically and emotionally. An analysis of the research available in 2005 concluded that mindfulness based intervention in cancer care had positive results, including improvements in mood, sleep quality and reductions in stress. A further review of studies in 2011 supported this finding. They found significant improvements in anxiety, depression, stress, sexual difficulties and immune function
Christopher Johns in his book, Being Mindful, Easing Suffering: Reflections on Palliative Care explains
"Mindfulness is a quality of mind that notices what is present without judgment, without interference. Being mindful guides me to see things as they really are rather than as a reflection of myself. Mindful practice is being aware of ones experience as it unfolds in its unpredictable and unique way.”
In 2005 the use of mindfulness in hospice care was examined from the perspective of the nurses. For many of the staff the changes were very significant
“Mindfulness makes me alert to what is happening……I see things that I didn’t see before, I begin to notice. For example when there is a lot of chaos in the room…..is this what she is seeing all day?”
“I think that in itself to be mindful that someone is afraid and not to reject it, not to sugar it over with something but also not be freaked out, but to really be with that feeling and to embrace it….then it seems the person can usually relax”
Mindful presence enables the nursing staff to be totally aware and focused on the circumstances she finds in the here and now, regardless of what has gone before or what will follow. It is a valuing of “being” over “doing” in the belief that compassionately being present allows the nurse to respond with empathy to the needs in that moment.
When I worked on a hospital ward during my nursing days I was often guilty of not being truly present but more concerned with my list of jobs to do. I felt that truly experiencing each moment would be overwhelming as many situations were difficult and challenging, but mindfulness has taught me that being present in the moment without trying to be in control of it is actually a great relief. To experience the moment for just what it is allows choices to be made from a place of awareness rather than habit or panic. Removing the “what should I do” and replacing it with an understanding of what is needed in that moment is very liberating. I know life is often unbearably busy on the wards and nurses are pulled in so many directions, introducing mindfulness is not easily done, but this does not mean it can’t be done. The staff at Mary Stevens Hospice are working hard to introduce mindfulness to their clients and to their own work. I truly commend them for their commitment to constantly move forward to provide the very best care.
Mindfulness, as all holistic therapies, is not a replacement for medical care but it can be included within the home, hospice or hospital setting. For more information please visit: mindfulness explained.
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