Linda Orrett is listed on the FHT’s Accredited Register of Complementary Therapists, offering massage and hypnotherapy, amongst others. She is a senior therapist with the CALM Team at a major cancer centre in the North West, offering a variety of rapid complementary therapy interventions to distressed patients undergoing medical procedures.
This case study focuses on the use of hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques to help an anxious patient with cancer complete a course of radiotherapy.
A female patient (who we shall call Jo), had Korsakoff ’s syndrome – a brain disorder usually associated with heavy alcohol consumption over a long period, which causes loss of short-term memory. Jo had a cancer of the tonsils and was in need of radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy to the head and neck area involves wearing a mask which is clipped down to the treatment couch to keep the patient absolutely still whilst having the radiotherapy. Some patients find this procedure very challenging and need support whilst having treatment. Jo was flagged up to the CALM Team by the radiotherapists as requiring support.
Jo was supported by her daughter and two complementary therapists, including Linda, during the mask making. The process was explained to Jo and she agreed to proceed, but when the mask hardened and tightened she panicked and became overwhelmed and described the mask as ‘closing in on her’, so the procedure was stopped immediately. Jo explained that she tells herself that she’ll ‘be alright’, but she gets frightened and can’t control her anxiety. She agreed that she would try again with the use of oral lorazopam (a mild sedative).
Jo returned a few days later and was again supported by Linda and another CALM therapist, as well as her daughter and son. She said that she didn’t remember coming for the procedure previously but she was frightened and visibly upset. Whilst talking to her she disclosed that she had five children and gave the therapists the names of all five children. To help Jo, it was suggested that she focus on something she could easily remember and associate with feeling good and pleasant thoughts – the names of her children and the love she has for them. Jo understood the procedure/ treatment could be stopped at any time. The approach was based on the therapists adapting their training in hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques to the Dementia Friends training delivered to staff in the hospital. Jo agreed that she would give this a go.
During the mask making, the therapists repeated the names of Jo’s children to her throughout, asking her to remember what they were like when they were children. This verbal dialogue was maintained throughout, delivered using language and verbal cues that promote deep relaxation. The mask making process was successfully completed. When Jo progressed to the CT scan, the same techniques were used. Jo successfully completed this procedure, too, and was pleased.
Jo then came for her six weeks (30 sessions) of radiotherapy treatment. The therapists again used the hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques throughout, expanding them a little by asking her to imagine looking through a photo album full of photos showing her children as they were growing up, holiday photos, photos of special family events such as weddings, and so on. Jo started to have a routine of going for a cup of tea at the end of treatment and also requesting her favourite music (Bruce Springsteen).
Jo completed all six weeks of radiotherapy treatment successfully. She said at one point; ‘I can’t believe I have made it through … I am conquering my fear and happy I have been able to get there with treatment… I am not frightened any more … I feel safe being here’.
Three key points
- The services and support of Complementary Therapists is recognised by medical professionals in a major cancer centre in the North West .
- Complementary therapy interventions, such as hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques, can be used to help anxious clients complete distressing medical procedures.
- As part of an integrated healthcare team, complementary therapists can help to deliver truly patient-centred care.