As I approached graduation from the BSc Complementary Healthcare degree at Cardiff Metropolitan University in 2019, I couldn’t help but think ‘what comes next?’ Following completion of placements in my third year, I realised my passion for therapies was within cancer care. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to apply for the Complementary Therapist job at Velindre Cancer Centre (Cardiff) and I became part of their fabulous Complementary Therapy team, where I met a fellow Complementary Healthcare graduate, Ruth Sunderland (graduated 2010). Fast forward 9 months, we were facing one of the biggest challenges the team had come across – the Coronavirus Pandemic. The question was ‘how could we adapt our roles to the changing circumstances?’
The Complementary Therapy Team at Velindre comprises of 4 team members, an administrator and a team lead. We are a patient focussed service, however, during the unprecedented times of the pandemic we recognised that we had to be innovative in how we offer support, whilst adhering to social distancing guidelines and adapting to an ever-changing role.
Working within the NHS during the pandemic highlighted to us that staff wellbeing is of paramount importance. As a result, we decided to set-up a staff Relax and Recharge Hub, working alongside the Clinical Psychology team. The building had to meet infection control standards, but we still made it a comforting place. Over 10-weeks, we offered a safe, peaceful hub using aromatherapy and calming music, for staff to get away from the stresses of work and to take time out of the hospital environment.
As a team, we are passionate about Aromatherapy, with myself and Ruth both using Aromatherapy as the focus of our dissertation. As we could not offer hands-on treatment, we utilised the team’s skills in Aromatherapy to create diffusers for the hub and aromatherapy inhaler sticks for staff use.
Using our current knowledge, we researched essential oils for each blend, choosing generally recognised therapeutic properties for common issues related to the pandemic. We developed several blends, so staff members could choose individual blends that they found appealing. We named each blend using phrases staff had used, normalising the struggles most of us were dealing with.
As a team, we encouraged staff to use the aromatherapy inhaler sticks with breathing techniques whenever they felt overwhelmed, to help calm them and bring them back to the present moment. Over the ten weeks we made approx. 300 aromatherapy inhaler sticks for staff. We also continued to support our patients by regularly checking in with them over the telephone, giving self-care advice and posting aromatherapy inhaler sticks.
The Coronavirus pandemic was and continues to be a challenging time for everyone, however I feel it has made us stronger as a team. It has been a pleasure working with my fellow therapists to provide support for not only front-line staff, but all staff at Velindre. In a time where wellbeing is paramount, this experience has taught me that self-care is not only important for patients but also myself and fellow staff. It serves as a reminder that we all need some ‘me-time’ now and again.
My time on the Complementary Healthcare degree taught me that therapies doesn’t always mean just a massage or reflexology treatment. The bodywork modules covered a range of topics giving me skills to create self-help leaflets and utilise my Aromatherapy skills in a different way, whilst still providing safe practice. Also, the communication and listening skills module taught me the importance of simply needing a ‘chat’ sometimes. Without the need for a solution, discussing issues is paramount within self-care, especially in an industry where we feel we do not have time to think about ourselves.