The Role of Holistic Therapies in Hospice and Palliative Care

The history of holistic care dates back 5,000 years, before medicinal treatments were ever used. But in the 1800s, Florence Nightingale reintroduced the concept of holistic care and is considered to be the founder of what is now considered modern holistic nursing. The premise is that we must extend beyond physical manipulation or pharmaceutical medication and into a person’s environment, their emotions, and their spiritual health — which lend to their overall sense of health and well-being.

Holistic Therapies

Holistic therapies have been shown to increase comfort, relieve pain and anxiety, and improve quality of life; all relevant for patients with chronic illness receiving palliative care and those on hospice, during their end-of-life journey. Massage therapy, aromatherapy, healing touch, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques are some of the therapies we incorporate at Journey Hospice. Although other therapies include Reiki, music and art therapy, acupuncture, pet visitation, homeopathy and hypnotherapy. Patients and their families have praised the benefits of these holistic modalities, citing symptom and pain relief, reduced stress and anxiety, and a sense of comfort and support.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy and healing touch are frequently incorporated and create a relaxing environment. Sensitive massage of a patient’s arms, legs, feet and hands, as well as slow stroke back massage not only promote deep relaxation but also better sleep. Healing touch is a gentle, non-invasive therapy that has been shown to reduce nausea, respiratory issues, depression, muscular aches and pains, insomnia, anxiety, skin discomfort, constipation, edema and stress.


Another popular holistic approach is scent. Essential oils such as lavender, frankincense, myrrh, rosemary, bergamot, geranium, orange, and rose can provide a relaxing effect. Often, the therapist will blend different scents in order to address the needs of the patient. The use of aromatherapy can also encourage patients to recall pleasant, loving, happy memories of the past. Massage therapy and healing touch will sometimes incorporate the use of essential oils as well.

The use of holistic therapies can awaken all of our senses. Guided imagery, pet visitation, as well as art and music therapy not only provide a relaxing environment but can also assist in decreasing heart and respiratory rates, control pain and agitation, encourage movement, evoke a sense of reminiscence, and reduce the feeling of depression, loneliness and isolation. These modalities are also often used when the patient has dementia or other forms of memory loss.

Patients’ families benefit from holistic care when making difficult decisions and facing challenges such as anxiety and anticipatory grieving. Holistic therapy helps families understand symptom management, employ coping mechanisms, and take part in caregiving through simple massage and administering essential oils.

Journey Hospice staff members are well-versed in many holistic therapies and incorporate these into the care that they provide to patients. This personalized and compassionate whole-person care focuses on the entire patient — body, mind, and spirit. However, it also addresses their environment, emotions, and spiritual well-being — helping people ‘live’ until they are no longer able to. During this time, whether it is hospice or palliative care, quality of life is essential.