Treatment of a different kind

Cancer patients at a palliative care unit have been feeling the benefits of the healing hands of beauty therapy students

ABERDEEN BEAUTY therapy students have given moving accounts of the treatments they give to patients with cancer at an NHS palliative care unit.

The students keep reflective diaries about their placement work giving beauty treatments and complementary therapies at Roxburghe House in Aberdeen. One student wrote: "During the treatment I found it hard to remain strong and I felt like crying, although I knew I had to be brave in front of my client."

Another said: "I felt I had a bond with this client as I had treated her several times. I felt quite emotional saying goodbye to her, knowing that she only had days to live."

Aberdeen College won Partnership of the Year Award from the Scottish Further Education Unit for its work with Roxburghe House palliative care unit, and a Scottish Qualifications Authority bronze award at the end of last year. The project was designed to give students experience beyond the usual beauty therapy salon placements and to meet the needs of those interested in a more holistic career.

Gill Griffin, the department's curriculum manager, set up an initial six-month pilot. Then a formal partnership was arranged for core placements for HND beauty therapy students and informal placements for HNC complementary therapy students and NVQ beauty therapy Level 3 learners.

"The students have been doing a variety of things, because there are inpatients and outpatients at Roxburghe House. Outpatients could have full treatments such as reflexology, back massages, facials or manicures. Every inpatient they saw, they had to adapt their treatment, as sometimes they had to see the patients while they were confinde to their bed," she says.

Ms Griffin acknowledges that some students coped better than others with the placements during the three years since the partnership was launched.

Some gained perspective and put their own problems in a fresh context, others found it upsetting as they had formed attachments with people who later died.

Sian Robertson, 20, and in second year, says: "It's very different.

Obviously we are not able to do as many treatments as we would in salons.

But you see the benefits more, because you see the people every week and you get to know them better and what they like.

"You can see that they feel better in themselves. Some have quite a low mood and a beauty therapy will pick them up a bit, even for a couple of days. They look brighter afterwards, a bit happier. They have taken a while to open up to us, but talk quite freely now.

"Mostly they have massages. But the ladies do like to get their nails done.

We are starting aromatherapy in a couple of weeks, but at the moment we are not trained to do it," Sian says.

"I like working with older people. Since I have taken up beauty therapy I have found that I much prefer the holistic therapies. And since we have been at Roxburghe, I have been wanting to do it more. I've been thinking about going into herbal medicine once I have left here. It would be a university BSc course."

Twenty-six year old Laura Carle has also been on the weekly placements.

"It's been good, it's been different," she says. "I find it rewarding. Some of it is upsetting, but it helps you put your own problems into perspective.

Donna Bremner, 19, sums it up: "It makes the patients happy, they really look forward to coming in for a treatment. And it makes you feel really happy pleasing them so much."

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