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Holistic Nursing Calms Patient Anxiety

Nurses at The Valley Hospital treat mind, body and spirit

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Patients at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., are fortunate to experience an added level of nursing care through the hospital's robust inpatient holistic nursing offerings. Sixty-three of its nurses are board certified in holistic nursing, more than any other facility in the country. In 2015, the American Holistic Nursing Association awarded the hospital its first Institutional Excellence in Holistic Nursing Practice award.

Janet Hamill, SN, RN, HNB-BC, integrative healing practitioner, explained: "Holistic really means mind, body and spirit. You are looking at the entire patient, not just the clinical diagnosis."

The mindset is about nurses being centered and authentically present for their patients. "You must really listen and not make assumptions," said Meryl Davis, RN, manager of patient care services. Holistic nursing is used not just in Davis' perioperative unit, but with the entire patient population, both inpatient and outpatient.

Nurses encourage patients to share personal stories, which better prepares them to make the right recommendations for care.

"It's about building trust with patients and treating them as people," Davis remarked. "We are here to get the best outcomes for them."

Quiet Reflection
Various techniques are available as part of the holistic nursing approach. It could be something as simple as scheduled quiet time on the unit, with lights dimmed and sound kept to a minimum, to allow patients time for self-reflection. Journaling and coloring are available to help reduce stress.

Nurse at Valley Hospital comforts patientMusic is a key part of the holistic offerings. Through the bedside harp program, a volunteer plays a harp for patients in their rooms. Channels on the in-hospital TV play healing music and nature scenes help to reduce stress and insomnia.

Breath work is another calming technique the nurses can pass along to their patients. Some nurses are trained in Reiki energy therapy. "That seems to bring a wonderful sense of calm and helps with pain," said Hamill.

"Many nurses in our hospital are trained to use essential oils. Lavender is used for relaxation and ginger is used for nausea," Hamill continued. Davis has found that some elderly patients respond better to lavender than to pain medications.

Easing Fears
It is not just elderly or surgical patients who benefit from this nursing approach. Heidi Brenner, CNM, holistic birth program coordinator, uses the techniques in the labor and delivery unit. "We use touch therapy when patients are starting to get anxious. We combine that with lavender to help patients get through the toughest part of their labor," Brenner explained.

Patients talk with Brenner about their fears and expectations for labor. Some have unrealistic views of the birthing process, and she talks them through those anxieties. She teaches them not only about the physical aspects of labor, but also how it will change them as women.

SEE ALSO: Strides in Spiritual Care

Improved Hospital Experience
Labor and delivery patients agree that this focus on holistic nursing is worthy. Participants in the holistic birth program at the hospital rated their experience better on Press Ganey patient surveys than those who did not have a holistic birth.

That positive sentiment is echoed throughout the hospital. On surveys, patients are asked: Did the staff meet your emotional needs? Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes. "Patients giving feedback use words like 'loving' and 'kind' and 'helpful,'" Davis said.

"We have readmitted patients who ask for holistic nursing again," Hamill said. Since holistic nursing is about putting the caregiver in the best position to take care of patients, it's easy to see why these nurses are so enthusiastic about it.

Danielle Bullen Love is a staff writer. Email her at

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