What is Integrative Palliative Care?

human being flying

The term Integrative Palliative Care (IPC) is a new concept within the healthcare community. At its core, it is the use of integrative therapies in palliative care settings. These fields are naturally connected as both are rooted in a holistic model of care that focuses on caring for the person as a whole, multidimensional being (mind-body-spirit-environment-relationships). IPC focuses on the integration of non-pharmacological approaches in the delivery of palliative care.

Integrative Therapies Defined

Integrative therapies combined with the use of conventional treatments (such as drugs and surgery) offer a synergistic approach to patient care that addresses the whole person. Integrative care primarily involves the use of non-pharmacological interventions including:

  1. Whole medical systems such as naturopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda and modalities that are part of these systems such as acupuncture, acupressure and tai chi.
  2. Mind-body and contemplative interventions such as meditation, guided imagery and hypnosis.
  3. Expressive arts such as music, painting, sculpture, writing, etc.
  4. Manipulative and body-based methods such as massage and reflexology.
  5. Biofield or “energy therapies” such as reiki, therapeutic touch and healing touch.
  6. Biologically-based treatments such as aromatherapy. Although herbal and other supplements are usually part of integrative therapies and they are widely used within integrative oncology, herbal supplements are seldom used in palliative care environments due to the complexity of possible interactions and the lack of data about these interactions.

Palliative Care Defined

Palliative care (PC) is sometimes misunderstood as being synonymous to “end of life care.” In reality, PC is a much broader term that includes people facing chronic debilitating conditions and/or life-limiting illness, to people who are older and need extra care, as well as people at the end of life. The definition of “palliative” is to “alleviate, soothe, relieve” symptoms related to any diagnosis or stage of illness. For example, palliative care may be offered to a person undergoing cancer treatments to decrease treatment side effects or to address symptoms produced by the cancer disease process.  These treatments are focused on alleviating pain and discomfort for the patient regardless of expected outcomes. It is currently recommended that palliative care be offered from the time of diagnosis through the end of treatment (if the person was cured) or through the end of life. Someone suffering from osteoarthritis (a chronic condition that is currently not curable), may receive benefits from non-pharmacological pain management offered in the form of palliative care.

Combining Integrative Therapies with Palliative Care

Integrative therapies work well within the field of palliative care because they share a common holistic philosophy of care. Both address the human being as a multi-dimensional being – mind, body, spirit, environment and relationships.

Integrative Palliative Care is the evolution of what we have learned about the effects of integrative therapies in people with life-limiting conditions and those at the end of life during the last 20 years.

The Integrative Palliative Care Institute is a newly formed organization dedicated to support education, research and implementation of integrative therapies within palliative care environments nationally and internationally.

Our Vision is to serve as a leading resource for transforming the global culture of palliative care for the benefit of patients, families, providers, organizations and society.

Our Mission is to advance the paradigm of Integrative Palliative Care through evidence-informed education and consultation for service planning and delivery of integrative therapies within medical environments.

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