AJN Article - July 1999: Nursing the Patient Within

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By Deborah Folsom, MSN, RN, HNC

Deborah Folsom, a member of the New York State Nurses Association, is a clinical specialist in holistic nursing at Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle, NY, and a staff nurse in the medical intensive care unit at Nyack Hospital in Nyack, NY.

It has been 15 years since I was first introduced to the holistic nursing interventions of imagery, meditation, and therapeutic touch. I recognized immediately that these modalities—all of which focus on integrating the mind, the body, and the spirit—allowed patients to achieve a powerful relaxation response. Since then, I have learned that healing isn’t just about curing; the beauty and art of nursing lie in the nurse–patient relationship.

As a staff registered nurse in a critical care setting, the practice of holistic nursing was a natural step for me. Throughout the years, my patients have responded positively to a variety of holistic interventions. For example, imagery helped a patient on a ventilator to relax, allowing her peak airway pressures to remain within a normal range during the invasive procedure of pulmonary artery catheter insertion. A 56-year-old woman with metastatic cancer found her pain, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting diminished thanks to a combination of relaxation techniques, imagery, and therapeutic touch. Patients report that holistic nursing interventions help to redirect their attention, distracting them from pain and discomfort.

Gradually, I came to understand the central premise of holistic nursing—that both the presence and intention of a nurse are important to patient care. I realized that by centering myself and finding inner balance, I was more effective as both nurse and healer. Centering is a form of meditation, whereby one calms the mind and focuses attention inward through gentle breathing exercises and imagery. It can be practiced daily, in as few as five minutes. Once, as I was discussing the concept of centering, I overheard a resident physician in training say, “If we all did that [centering] before going to see each patient, we would all do a better job.” I was glad. The message of holistic care was making its way beyond the nursing community.

But how does centering help our patients?

The more we care for ourselves, the better we’re able to care for others. Who’s more attentive to patients’ needs on a busy night shift? The nurse who isn’t focused because she hasn’t had a moment to catch her breath, or the one who can stay calm? I’ve found that centering improves my ability to care for my patients, and their feedback validates this: Many patients have commented on their tranquility and sense of safety in the midst of my hectic shift. The presence and intention of the nurse create a comforting environment in which healing can take place.

Holistic nursing is not restricted to any one type of health care environment. Its philosophy can be beneficial to all patients and health practitioners. If we incorporate the holistic nursing principles—centering, intention, presence, and self-care—into our lives, we may be able to better care for ourselves, our patients, and our profession.

For more information call the American Holistic Nurses Association at (800) 278-AHNA, available online at <http://www.AHNA.org>.