26th August 2016

Bringing peace and relaxation

St Richard’s patients can now benefit from a new complementary therapy, helping them to find relaxation, peace and wellbeing. HEARTS (Hands on, Empathy, Aromas, Relaxation, Texture, Sound) is a technique that can calm those who may be anxious, in pain or unable to sleep.

Developed by Ann Carter, a specialist complementary therapist in supportive and palliative care, the principles of this treatment are based on the lines of the poem ‘Break, Break, Break’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson:


“But O for the touch of a vanished hand,

And the sound of a voice that is still!”

Treatment includes hands-on care through clothing, and also if desired through another textured fabric such as fleece, towelling or knitted blankets, offering empathy with the sounds of tranquil music or the human voice, and emotionally soothing aromas.

This complementary therapy is gentle, comforting and reassuring and so can be used in any situation. The art of the technique is to combine the sensory elements help individuals relax: the touch of hands through textured fabric, the scent of essential oils, the sound of a calming human voice and music.

The technique is particularly helpful for those patients that are unable to tolerate skin to skin massaging, do not wish to remove clothing or who are unable to lie down as treatment can also be offered to patients sitting in a chair. Other patients may have cognitive limitations and cannot concentrate for more than a few minutes so HEARTS provides an effective option for them as the therapy is designed to be completed within just a few minutes.

Even very poorly patients can find calmness and relaxation through the therapy of touch. For example, a patient staying on our In-patient Unit recently came into the therapy room quite upset and anxious, but after just 20 minutes of HEARTS treatment she returned to her bed smiling and laughing, visibly more at ease.

A flexible approach to meet individual needs

HEARTS therapyThe hands on technique is quite different from other complementary therapy techniques. We just lay on hands in particular places, such as on the leg, and hold our hands in place offering very small pressure, much like a cat padding.

The patient selects their chosen texture, which could be fleece, towelling or knitted blankets. This use of texture is an additional sensory aspect compared to other therapies.

Patients select their chosen essential oil or combination of oils, which may bring back comforting memories. These are then combined into an aroma stick which the patient can then self-administer by wafting by their nose during treatment.

When choosing their preferred essential oils, the patient is asked to recount the comforting memory evoked by the scent. During the hands on treatment, the therapist then repeats their pleasant memory back to them, enabling them to include listening to their sensory experience. The therapist will use a particularly calming tone of voice, lower in pitch, slower and rhythmical in timing.

This sound aspect of the therapy could be a choice of relaxing music – my particular favourite CDs include Water Sculptures or Wild Waters– and the voice of the therapist. Water sounds including waterfalls, streams and waves crashing on a beach are particularly relaxing and remind patient of the beauty of water in the natural landscape.

We can talk about their favourite colour, and then talk them through imagining that colour moving around their body to offer relaxation and empathy.

Many patients who have tried this technique say that this therapy feels very different to other complementary therapies they have experienced, but that they enjoy the flexibility and adaptability of the technique.

St Richard’s complementary therapists offer people the space to just ‘be’, while helping people to relax can help them to cope with their situation.

Liesl Potts, Lead Complementary Therapist