The power of a healing touch

It is difficult to fully understand the power of a healing touch, despite the fact, that the medical field are continuing to find ‘healthful’ benefits for patients in the form of non-verbal communication. Luise Westwood, Chaplain at Baptcare The Orchards Community says that it is a way of connecting with another, without saying a word to communicate, especially when a resident has commenced a comfort care or palliative care pathway.

The role of a chaplain has significantly changed over the years, Luise sums it up by saying “Chaplaincy today, lies at the heart of a holistic approach to healing which encompasses the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – enabling a chaplain to listen with their heart to another person’s struggle, joys and pain”. Our chaplains are trained to listen to the resident’s story, to be present to the resident’s values and to reframe the crisis/life changing situation.

One example of the power of a healing touch is Luise’s interaction with Beth, who was on a palliative care pathway. Beth, who generally was resistant to many forms of assistance and was known to be verbally abusive at times, was referred to Luise at the start of March this year.

Upon her first visit, Luise found Beth lying in her bed in a foetal position and experienced Beth to be somewhat initially resistive to her presence. After a period of silence, Beth asked Luise to rub her back. She wasn’t in any physical pain but was expressing a need for human contact, a gentle touch, to reassure her that someone was there for her. Beth eventually closed her eyes and whispered to Luise, “Thank you, no one has done something like that for me in a long time”.

Luise was able to visit Beth once more before she passed away in late March. During this visit, Luise recalls that although Beth was semi-conscious, “she appeared to respond to my presence”. Whilst Luise will never know to the full extent her presence, words or gestures may have had on Beth, she believes that Beth experienced some sense of peace or acceptance of her current situation.

The nursing staff at The Orchards Community noted that following Luise’s initial visit, Beth was more accepting and less resistive to their care.

The work of our Pastoral care team and chaplains like Luise, is very important to Baptcare’s holistic approach to aged care. Providing spiritual and emotional support to our residents, is less about filling up every moment with words, and more about discovering the gifts of sacred silence and the potential power of a ‘healing touch’.

“It is an incredible privilege to work with elderly people at their most vulnerable time”, said Luise. “Chaplaincy is a vocation, not just a job”.