School for thought

FHT’s Editor and Communications Manager, Karen Young, visits the NHS Natural Health School team in North Yorkshire

NHS Natural Health lo-res

From left to right: Karen Young, Gwyn Featonby, Beverley Harrison, Sarah Grant, and NHS Natural Health School student, Lorraine Cole

One cold morning in January, I travelled from Southampton to Harrogate to meet with Gwyn Featonby, Sarah Grant and Beverley Harrison – three members of the award-winning team that head up the NHS Natural Health School, based at Harrogate District Hospital, Harrogate and District Foundation Trust (HDFT).

I only had time to spend a few hours with this lovely trio but it was well worth the 500-mile round trip (actually, make that 507, because I overshot Harrogate station, checking emails on my phone!).

The school, which was officially launched in May 2018, is the first NHS-approved and owned complementary therapy school, run by NHS employees. It was developed to create a self-sustaining model of care for patients, delivered by therapists trained to the highest standards of care expected of any health professional working within the NHS. But as the team will be more than happy to tell you, this didn’t just happen ‘overnight’ – it took four years and a lot of hard work to get to where they are today.

When Sarah took on the role of Patient Information and Health and Wellbeing Manager at the Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre, HDFT, in 2014, part of her responsibility was to develop and improve the existing complementary therapy service. At the time, it comprised of six self-employed therapists, who took turns to provide four hours of treatment a week to self-referring patients. While the therapists offered a very good level of service, there was no consistency for those accessing treatment, and no measures in place to show the true value of the service to patients and staff. As such, it was seen as more of a ‘nice to have’, informal spa, than a service that offered real therapeutic potential.

Sarah quickly set to work to future-proof and improve the complementary therapy service. As well as securing dedicated space for delivering therapies and training within the newly built Centre, Julie Crossman, MFHT – one of the original therapy team members – was tasked with overseeing an audit of the complementary therapy service using MYCAW*, so that they could start to build an evidence base of the treatments provided. A little later Sarah brought Gwyn on board, to develop a therapy training programme that would meet both CQC (Care Quality Commission) and industry standards and equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge to work confidently and safely with patients with complex health needs.

When I walked into the Centre less than a fortnight ago, I have to say, it felt very calm and welcoming, and as if the NHS Natural Health School has been running smoothly for many years as opposed to months. Today, the model created by Sarah, Gwyn and the team means that for each cohort of students they have on a training pathway at a time, 72 patients are removed from the complementary therapy service waiting list.

Self-referring is also a thing of the past, with all patients now being referred by a health professional working at the Centre. Many of these health professionals have experienced the treatments first-hand, after accessing these when a patient has cancelled or been unable to attend an appointment. Others have simply seen how different therapies have helped to resolve issues such as pain management or sleep difficulties in patients, which previously might have required referral to a specialist, costing the NHS even more precious time and money.

Sarah also highlighted that an unexpected benefit of providing health professionals access to the complementary therapy service is that they feel valued and cared for, and as word travels fast in the medical community, this has vastly helped to improve recruitment at the hospital. Staff who feel valued are also more likely to volunteer to do overtime, because they’re happy to ‘give a little something back’.

So, what’s next? Once the team are completely happy with the model, they hope to introduce it to other departments within the hospital and then, ultimately, license it out to other Trusts, so that these too can benefit from a self-sustaining complementary therapy service, which has quality and patient-centred care at the core. It certainly seems to be a win-win situation for all involved – namely a struggling NHS system, over-burdened health professionals in danger of burn out, therapists in need of hands-on experience working with complex patients and, most importantly, patients in need of support.

Keen to learn more about the NHS Natural Health School and team?

Read an article by Gwyn about the NHS Natural Health School

Learn more about Gwyn winning 2018 FHT Tutor of the Year

Read about Gwyn and Julie winning a Complementary Therapy Award 2018

*MYCAW (Measure Yourself Concerns and Wellbeing) is a patient-reported outcome measure often use by complementary therapists working in cancer care.

Quote of the week

Jennifer Young

Measure Yourself Concerns and Wellbeing (MYCAW) is a questionnaire that was created to evaluate complementary therapies in cancer care. At the 2018 FHT Conference Jennifer Young told us that it is easy to implement and gives therapists qualitative research that should be taken seriously.

Find out more about MYCAW

Read an article by Jennifer Young

Reflecting on yoga, research and what matters most

Tania Plahay.jpgThis week we caught up with author and yoga teacher, Tania Plahay, in the second in our series of interviews with 2019 FHT Training Congress expert speakers. Tania tells us about her career change from civil service to offering yoga therapy for clients with dementia, and why it is important to do the things you love.


Q. Tell us a bit of background about yourself…

I first got into yoga in my late teens when I was living in London. When I was 18, I moved in with my father to help care for him after he had a stroke. Previously, my father was in a nursing home, where I remember visiting and feeling a deep sense of sadness about the lack of activities and engagement in the home. My father passed away when I was 21, but this sadness has always stayed with me. My grandmother was also living with dementia during the final part of her life.

During my 20s and early 30s, I had a career in the civil service, but continued my yoga practice as a hobby. In 2010, I trained to be a yoga teacher, which increased my knowledge about the wider therapeutic benefits of yoga. After my teacher training, I wanted to spread the joy and grounding I had found to other people. In particular, those that did not have easy access to yoga.


Q. Give us an insight in to your normal day-to-day schedule…

During my research project and when writing my book, Yoga for Dementia, my normal day-to-day schedule would look at little like this:

On a Friday morning I would go and volunteer at my local nursing home. This would involve preparing a class, which could cater for a wide range of clients including those living with dementia, heart conditions, and high blood pressure. This class would last around 40 minutes and we would perform a range of movements and breathing exercises. After the class, I would review any learning points. My afternoons sometimes involved going to another residential home to train some of the activities managers.

My current schedule includes spending time doing my own daily yoga practice, as well as reading about yoga and the latest research into the medical benefits of yoga. I try to keep up to date with the constantly evolving information about dementia and its effects. I am putting together training resources for other people who want to introduce yoga in residential care settings. Some of my regular classes are with older clients in a residential home.


Q. What interests you outside of work?

I have already gone through one complete career change from a civil servant to a yoga teacher and educator.  Therefore, my current work, on aging, dementia, yoga and meditation was previously my hobby. In my spare time I still really enjoy delving deeper into these topics. There is a quote that goes something along the lines of ‘choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ Although I still have to do things I consider ‘work’, I consider myself very lucky that I truly love what I do.

As well as yoga I am interested in cross training and functional movement, and I love the great outdoors. I particularly enjoy hiking, running and swimming in the sea.

To relax I love cooking healthy vegetarian food, watching a series on TV, and spending time with my partner and rescue dogs.


Q. What is your Training Congress seminar about?

In the UK there are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. Many complementary, beauty, and sports therapists have the ability to help this group feel well, relax, and practice self-care. However, I believe that many therapists may have reservations about working with those living with dementia or may not know where to start approaching or talking to this client group.

My seminar provides five key tips to working with people living with Dementia. These tips are based on my work in researching and writing my book, Yoga for Dementia.


Q. What is it about your topic that appeals to you and why is it useful for therapists?

According to a new study (November 2018) published in The Lancet Neurology, the number of people living with dementia globally has more than doubled between 1990 and 2016. By 2050 more than 100 million people globally could be living with dementia related diseases.  The study also shows that some of these outcomes can be attributed to four key lifestyle related risk factors: being overweight, having high blood sugar, consuming a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages, and smoking. Other studies show that stress can increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment.

The 2018 study calls for community-based services that support improved quality of life and function. I believe that many complementary therapists can help enhance the quality of life and function of people living with cognitive impairment. How we feel in our bodies can have a huge impact on our mental well-being. There are many opportunities for therapists to work with those living with dementia and other cognitive impairments. These may include helping clients to use their bodies more effectively, helping people to relax, or helping them to feel well.

The study also explains that dementia develops over at least 20 to 30 years before it is diagnosed. I therefore believe that there is also an advocacy role for therapists working with those at risk of dementia in their middle years. Therapists can provide people with simple tools and self-care practices, such as massage, exercise and dietary advice, to help reduce stress and make better choices.

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Q. What will attendees of your seminar expect to come away with?

Attendees of my seminar will come away with five top tips to working with those living with dementia. If you have never worked with anyone living with dementia before, I will provide some information about what you might expect. I will also look at common fears of working with this group, and how we can overcome these. We will explore a little about working within the framework of families, communities, and institutions and how we communicate. After the seminar you will have a better idea about the challenges and opportunities of working with this group.

My intention for those that come to the seminar is that at the end of the seminar they will feel much more confident about expanding their client base to include those living with dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment.


Q. Are there any other seminars in the programme which look particularly interesting to you?

Yes, I am very interested in the role complementary therapists can play in holistic wellbeing and how they can work alongside conventional medicine. Therefore, I am interested in Dr Toh Wong’s seminar on ‘Five main reasons why therapists don’t get referrals from GPs and the medical profession’ and Julie Crossman’s on ‘The role of the complementary therapist within the NHS’.

I also use guided meditation, visualisation and yoga nidra a lot in my work, so I’m interested in Anna-Louise Haigh’s seminar on ‘Guided meditation – experience the power to transform’.


Q. What would be your one piece of advice for therapists wanting to grow and develop their therapy practice?

My best piece of advice relates to following your heart and focusing on doing what you love. This might mean thinking outside the box, such as considering if there are underserved population groups in your area. I would recommend reflecting on your expertise, and if you have any particular interests you would like to pursue more.

When we are enthusiastic about something and following our hearts, this enthusiasm can become infectious and others can pick up on this. I would also advise not shying away from social media. I use my Yoga for Dementia Facebook page to share articles and posts I find interesting. It is great as it is an easy reference resource and also helps to develop a community around a topic of interest.

Tania Plahay with book.jpg

Member offer

You can purchase a copy of Tania’s book via its publishers, Jessica Kingsley. Use the code PLAHAY for a 20% discount from now until 9 March.


Learn more

Join us at the 2019 FHT Training Congress from Sunday 19 to Monday 20 May at the Holistic Health Show, NEC Birmingham.

For more details about the talks and to book, visit


Look out for an article by Tania Plahay in the next issue of International Therapist.

Music therapy could help prevent falls in over 65s


More than three million people are treated for fall related injuries during the winter months, with around 60,000 requiring hospital treatment.

Daniel Thomas, Joint Managing Director & neurologic music therapist at Chroma, the UK’s leading national provider of arts services, suggests winter poses a serious risk of falling to the elderly for a number of reasons:

‘Many older people take numerous medications that may have side effects including dizziness, which pose an increased risk of falling.

‘With age, sensation in feet decline, especially if there is an underlying condition such as diabetes, poor circulation, arthritis or lingering complications following a stroke. With decreased sensation, balance is affected. Slippery surfaces, such as those covered in snow or ice, can further reduce balance increasing the likelihood of a fall.

‘Many over 65s walk with an unstable gait, during any weather. Those who do not exercise have weakened muscles, increasing the likelihood of a fall.’

According to Age UK, falls in the over 65s costs the NHS around 4.6 million a day, and this could skyrocket, with this age group due to represent nearly half of the population of some areas by 2039.

Chroma believes the solution to fall prevention in the over 65s lies within neurologic music therapy (NMT) – the therapeutic application of music to cognitive, affective, sensory, language and motor dysfunctions due to disease or injury to the human nervous system.

NMT relies on engaging with patients to maintain exercise and physical activity, encouraging older people and patients to move more for therapeutic and health reasons. It recruits healthy and un-injured areas of the brain, rather than trying to fix the damaged or ‘broken’ part of their brain linked to the loss of function.

Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) is an important aspect of NMT. Within RAS programmes, strong and predictable rhythmic patterns are used to guide the sensori-motor movements required for walking. Predictable rhythmic structure allows the sensori-motor system to move in sync with the beat. Stroke patients have reported improved stride length and symmetry with RAS.

Daniel suggests, ‘Music with high beats per minute (BPM) promotes movement, good cadence and walking speed, so songs like Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots are Made for Walkin, which has 85 BPM is ideal.

‘Walking speed correlates with functional ability and balance confidence. It has the potential to predict future health status, the risk of falls and a client’s fear of falling. BPM strongly correlates to step cadence, and therefore walking speed. Improved walking speed equates to improved balance.

‘Increased muscle strength, gait and walking speed are all necessary factors required to reduce the risk of falls in the elderly. NMT has proven itself to be a cost-effective intervention to help improve such factors, and as a result, enhance the wellbeing and health of the elderly and the healthcare sector simultaneously.’



Stroke Association seeks volunteer therapists for the London Marathon

Running event shutterstock_104205359

The Stroke Association require volunteer therapists on Sunday 28 April 2019, from 12pm-6pm at Champagne Charlies, 17, The Arches, Villiers St, London WC2N 6NG. Travel expenses will be covered up to the value of £15 and refreshments (drinks and lunch) and breaks will be provided throughout the day.

Members must hold a Level 3 or above qualification in body massage, sports massage or sports therapy, accepted by the FHT for membership and insurance purposes. The Stroke Association will require a copy of your public liability insurance and proof of qualification.

Volunteers can either give runners a massage while laying down or provide seated leg massage, and will need to bring their own equipment, including massage couches, oils and towels.

The Stroke Association is more than happy for volunteers to use this as an opportunity to promote their services, therefore they are welcome to bring along business cards and leaflets to pass on to those having a massage on the day.

If you would like to give your time and help out those raising money for a great cause, please contact Emily Goulding at or T. 0207 940 1344. Please provide your FHT membership number and full name when getting in touch.

If you do get involved please let the FHT know at – so we can celebrate your involvement in International Therapist and online.




Talking points

In the first of a series of interviews witjanewebpageimageblackandwhitecircleh our 2019 FHT Training Congress expert speakers, we spoke to Jane Johnson about portfolio work, writing, research and rocks.


Q. Tell us a bit of background about yourself…

I’m a physiotherapist, with a ‘portfolio’ job, which is a posh way of saying that I work in more than one capacity:

  • I run The Friendly Physio, a free Facebook group with the aim of inspiring therapists with tips, tricks, stories and video tutorials.
  • I write books: Postural Assessment, Postural Correction, Therapeutic Stretching, Deep Tissue Massage, Soft Tissue and Trigger Point Release, and The Big Back Book: Tips & Tricks for Therapists. With a colleague, Cameron Reid, I’m currently writing How To Treat Knee Pain.
  • In the capacity of Physiotherapy Expert Witness, I give evidence in court and in the form of written reports for cases involving massage and physiotherapy.
  • I’m in my final year studying for a PhD. I’ve been funded by the Royal College of Chiropractors and Teesside University to develop a postural assessment app for use by chiropractors treating clients with back or neck pain.
  • I teach workshops and deliver seminars both in the UK and abroad. I also deliver free webinars, including Postural Assessment, Postural Correction, How to Treat Clients with Low Back Pain, and How to Treat Clients With Neck Pain.
  • And of course, I work as a physio! I’m a musculoskeletal physiotherapist and specialize in occupational health. This means assessing and treating patients just as any other musculoskeletal physio, but in addition, advising their employer how to help keep that person in work (or help get them back to work) if they have an injury, are recovering from an operation, or if they have a long-term musculoskeletal condition.

I began as a fitness instructor, then trained in Swedish massage, then gravitated to sports injuries and sports massage, and eventually physiotherapy.


Forbidden city.jpg

Q. Give us an insight into your normal day-to-day schedule…

With a portfolio job my days are never the same. Any week I might be:

  • answering questions from therapists in The Friendly Physio group.
  • carrying out a locum physiotherapy job, assessing and treating patients, writing reports for employers.
  • at the airport, waiting to board a plane to China or Taiwan to teach a course there.
  • working on a chapter of my PhD thesis.
  • on a train to a UK venue to teach an FHT workshop.
  • speaking to patients on the telephone, delivering telephone consultations for a physiotherapy firm.
  • working on the manuscript of a book I’m writing.
  • working on the submission of a book I’m hoping to get a contract to write!
  • putting together a webinar or seminar or workshop materials.
  • reading thousands of pages of patient notes and writing the report with my opinion as an expert witness.
  • attending training courses to develop my own learning.

I have a huge, double-sided whiteboard on wheels in my office so I can keep track of what I’m doing. Every night I write out what I need to do the next day so that I know where I’m going, whether I’m supposed to be on site doing a physio job or buying foreign currency for a job abroad.


Q. What interests you outside of work?


Having a portfolio job means I have to take time out to rest and refresh myself.

I get a lot of massage, wherever I am, whenever I can, whether it’s a quick 15-minute chair massage or Indian head massage in an airport, or a 2.5-hour Thai yoga massage in town.

I keep a sketchbook. I started 4 years ago and now I’ve got 43! I visit a lot of museums, one of my passions, and I sketch everything and anything. I love sketching rocks because even when they go horribly wrong, they still look like rocks.

I walk my dog every day when I’m at home. He’s the last of my rescue dogs, a massive staffie who isn’t called Chunky for nothing.

I do yoga. I’m currently doing a 30-day beginners yoga challenge.


Q. What is your Training Congress seminar about?

I’m doing two—Posture: does it matter, and can it be corrected? and Trigger points for beginners.


Q. What is it about your topics that appeals to you and why are they useful for therapists?

In my clinical experience, there is a relationship between posture and pain. I love demonstrating simple postural correction techniques that any therapist can teach their clients. Similarly, I’ve found that deactivation of trigger points helps reduce pain and sensations of tension in muscles and helps increase range of movement. I like helping therapists understand how to identify trigger points and eliminate them. Postural correction and trigger point reduction are skills all therapists can learn, without the need for expensive, additional training.

jane johnson

Q. What will attendees of your seminar expect to come away with?

In the posture seminar attendees will be asked whether they have ever treated clients with round shoulders or heard about ‘text neck’, ‘forward-head posture’, or seen a client with a ‘bump’ on the back of their neck. They will learn how to identify these postures, as well as pelvic ‘tilting’. This seminar explores some of the controversies surrounding posture and postural correction.

In the trigger point seminar, attendees will be asked if they have heard of the term ‘trigger point’ and wondered what it meant. They will learn the difference between trigger points and ‘knots’ in a muscle, what a trigger point is, what causes them, how to identify them and how to treat them.


Q. Are there any other seminars in the programme which look particularly interesting to you?

Yes, ‘The role of the complementary therapist in the NHS’. As someone who has worked in both the private sector and the NHS, including at the Royal Free Hospital which has had a massage service for many years, with over 70 therapists, I’ve long since supported the integration of complementary therapy within this sector. As we know, research suggests that this is what patients want too. I’m keen to see how this develops over the next five years.


Q. What would be your one piece of advice for therapists wanting to grow and develop their therapy practice?

Make a vision board with images and text reflecting what you want to attract into your practice and keep it somewhere where you can see it every day. You get what you focus on so if your attention is focused on your vision, seeing it on the vision board will help it manifest.


Learn more

Join us at the 2019 FHT Training Congress from Sunday 19 to Monday 20 May at the Holistic Health Show, NEC Birmingham.

For more details about the talks and to book, visit

As well as hosting two seminars at the 2019 FHT Training Congress, Jane is offering a free webinar on treating clients with neck pain (Wednesday 27 March at 3-4pm) and is teaching a number of FHT Hosted workshops throughout 2019.

Read an article by Jane Johnson on deactivating trigger points with soft tissue release, published in the Winter 2019 issue of International Therapist.