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Highlands Hospital Embraces Integrative Medicine
By Daniel Casciato

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, nearly one-third of American adults are using health care methods outside traditional western. Highlands Hospital is one regional health facility that is on the forefront of using this holistic approach to wellness. The Integrative Medicine Department at Highlands Hospital combines evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with traditional or western medicine. Integrative medicine is the synergistic blending of these two distinct types of care providing a more holistic approach to healing.

Integrative Medicine therapies are based on the body's innate ability to heal itself.  The focus is on the whole person—physical, emotional social and spiritual. The main focus of any Integrative Medicine therapy is to bring your body to a state of rest, relax and repair, explains Jeanne Brinker, an Integrative Medicine Healing Arts Practitioner and Registered Nurse with the Integrative Medicine Department.

Brinker has been in the nursing field for over 40 years, the last 20 years in holistic nursing. She's a member of the American Holistic Nurses Association, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, American Bowen Academy, Yoga Alliance, Connected Natural Therapies and the A.R.E.

She was the former director of Integrative Medicine at Windber Medical Center. In that capacity, she has worked to bring CAM to diverse patient populations from prenatal care, newborns and their families, pre and post-surgical care, critical and cardiac care, cancer survivors, hospice and palliative care, grief and loss support for families, incarcerated young adults and healthy teens, adults and seniors.

Since she is certified in a number of holistic modalities, Brinker is able to use her diverse background to offer a unique blend of therapies that is a custom fit for each patient.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine breaks down Integrative Medicine practices into three broad categories:

Mind-Body Medicine—These are practices that focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body and behavior, with the intent to use the mind to affect physical functioning and promote health. The practices include: breathing techniques, meditation, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, prayer, art, music/sound techniques such as drumming and tuning forks, yoga and movement therapies. 

Biologically Based Practices—such as nutrition, herbal, botanicals and aromatherapy.

Energy Therapiessuch as Bowenwork, Reiki, The Radiance Technique, Healing Touch and White Light Healing. These practices acknowledge the energy of a living organism and the intent is to balance the body's energy system and allow it to heal the physical body.

"All of these modalities are available to our patients, staff and clients," says Brinker.

Brinker most enjoys being able to teach a person how to use these techniques to affect healing for themselves. "I teach them to take back their power over their minds and bodies and heal themselves. I teach people to be a participant in their health care. I teach them to breathe."

The challenge is that all of these techniques take time, notes Brinker. That's why she emphasizes that it is essential to set aside twenty minutes or more each day to practice breathing and relaxation techniques, because it takes the body twenty minutes to unwind and reach a deep state of relaxation.

"We all want a quick-fix with as little effort as possible," she says. "In today's fast paced world, we have become an over-scheduled, over-worked society with stress-induced chronic diseases.   The body responds with slow, gentle, consistent and compassionate care. There is no quick and easy fix."

For Brinker, the greatest reward is when someone who insists they have no time is able to feel the peace and relief that being in a state of rest/relax/repair brings and begins a practice of self-care.

"They have taken back their personal power," she says.  "A great example happened recently with a patient experiencing the flash-backs of PTSD.  This person was open to the idea of self-care."

Brinker taught the individual the relaxation breathing technique, did a progressive relaxation and guided imagery technique and bio-energy work. The patient fell asleep and when she checked in with the person the next morning, the patient told her, "I no longer feel compelled to think those thoughts anymore. Things are falling into place for me now." 

"This was extremely rewarding for me," Brinker recalls.

One challenging issue emerging in the healthcare field is the opioid epidemic. Through the Integrative Medicine Department at Highlands Hospital, patients can receive the help they need.

"Drugs may be taken to alleviate chronic physical pain and over time, a person can become addicted to them," says Brinker. "Drugs are also used as an escape from emotional pain and trauma and sometimes life itself."

Highlands Hospital has recently been named one of the Governor's Centers of Excellence for Opioid Abuse. That means it is and will continue to form its network of care providers that will assist them in helping everyone coming through its doors. 

Whether it's PTSD or opioid abuse, Brinker says a compassionate support system is needed to help a person identify the source of the pain, acknowledge it and deal with it.

"An essential element in healing is learning how to forgive," she says. "Unprocessed anger, guilt or grief interferes with optimal health. Forgiveness allows a feeling of peace that emerges as you take responsibility for how you feel and become a hero instead of a victim in the story of your life."

For more information, visit http://www.highlandshospital.org/services/integrative-medicine.

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