Shiatsu and complementary therapy practitioners regularly work with clients who face death and loss. In the clinic, home, NHS premises or elsewhere, therapists are meeting people who have encountered dying, are in the midst of grief or are mourning. It is when they are suffering or struggling to come to terms with these that they seek the special type of support that complementary therapists provide.
Of course, loss is widespread and felt by us all. Life cycle changes concerned with ageing, such as a child who goes to school and women meeting menopause can cause grief. Upheavals like moving house, divorce and retirement can bring about significant changes in circumstances which leave us bereft. The impact of being diagnosed with, facing, and enduring life-threatening illness or disease is far reaching, as are the results of war, famine and natural catastrophe. Suicide is a complex kind of loss; death in the womb or of a baby can affect in the short or long-term; and shock from a sudden occurrence usually stimulates a profound response. Some of us engage in behaviour which is known to increase the likelihood of death in life. Moreover, age, status, religious and cultural background, and indeed location all determine the type of experience we have. Fear and anger compound such losses which are not always easy to handle alone, and yet we try to come to terms with, even grow from, the challenges that they bring.
As practitioners we seek to find ways to sit with our clients in their suffering and be of some succour. This work is challenging and personal and there are times when we might be impacted by the work. We need to support ourselves to remain healthy and maintain effective boundaries, focusing on, and enquiring into our individual beliefs, ethics and moral code so that we are more likely to be able to give non-judgmental and appropriate treatment.
Death is in our own lives and that of our family and friends, sometimes in an immediate way, and this affects our work and raises questions. Do we give sessions when we are grieving? Do we speak with our clients about our own health? In order to be responsible, must we make arrangements for what will happen to our clients and their case notes in the event of our own demise?
Despite this being such a widespread topic, it is notable that the subject rarely features on the core curriculum of complementary therapy training institutions, nor is it regularly part of post graduate or continuous professional development programmes.
My course will stimulate self enquiry whilst encouraging best practice and honesty in the client-practitioner relationship. We will look at ways to touch when working with frail or dying clients and how to manage restrictions such as working on a hospital bed. We will use walking and sitting meditation and share with each other to improve our confidence in working with people at a vulnerable time of their lives in a respectful, open-hearted and compassionate manner.