An Interview* with Karolina Stefanopoulou,
Registered Member of the Hellenic Shiatsu Society
Can you tell us a little bit about how your collaboration with Hippokration Athens General Hospital started?
My collaboration with the Pain Management Clinic of the Hippokration Hospital came to support the initiative that my colleague Themis Rhinas, who was in charge of and coordinator for this project, secured in agreement with the hospital. This partnership was, from its very beginning, supported by the Hellenic Shiatsu Society. I decided to join this project when it started, in January 2017.
Basically, there were three reasons that led me to this choice. Firstly, the possibility of working directly with the medical industry, that is, how and to what extent Shiatsu can support medical activities related to pain management, has been a major professional challenge for me. Secondly, working with the hospital would allow me to get in touch with people suffering from a much wider range of illnesses and with much more ‘difficult’ and complex diseases compared to the people I usually treat privately.
And the third, and perhaps my strongest motivation, was to spread the word about Shiatsu to a very broad audience. Visitors to the Pain Management Clinic are the typical visitors to public hospitals, usually elderly patients, middle-class people and those belonging to the most vulnerable social groups. Usually, these patients have not heard of Shiatsu or would not come to receive Shiatsu in private. For these reasons, offering Shiatsu in hospitals gives many patients the opportunity to experience its benefits.
How is Shiatsu provided to patients? Do you follow any specific protocols?
It’s important to first mention the conditions under which Shiatsu is practiced in Hippokration Hospital. The Pain Management Clinic is a small, single room with three examination beds and an office. An anesthesiologist monitoring simultaneously one or two patients (often accompanied by a relative) often works with a specialized physician in this area, with a nurse –providing, amongst others, secretarial support- on a regular basis, and a practitioner offering Shiatsu to the patient.
Too many people in a confined space! It has nothing to do with the privacy and tranquility usually prevailing in our profession! But truth be told, I have been able to adapt to this new environment quite easily.
On a different note, this coexistence has its positive aspects. First, I am present at the time of the medical interview and during the medical practice, even if at the same time I give Shiatsu to a patient, without my attention being distracted from what I do. It is very interesting because I hear and see what is exchanged between the patient, their companion and the doctor. In this way, I receive information of medical interest concerning the relationship of the patient to their condition, but also the impact of the patient’s illness on their family environment. All this information is very useful in my work because, in the Pain Management Clinic, we do not focus on the diagnosed condition as such, but on the physical and mental pain experienced by the person who is suffering.
In practice, when a patient first comes to the clinic, they are first examined by the anesthesiologist providing the medical treatment required for their condition. In this case, Shiatsu is provided after the medical treatment. When the patient has returned to the clinic, they will often receive Shiatsu before meeting the doctor.
Each session is always personalized for each patient and adapts to their current situation. We do not follow specific protocols because Shiatsu is a holistic approach that does not separate the disease from the person manifesting it. A condition can produce different symptoms, different forms of pain, but, above all, the person who manifests them is unique. So Shiatsu approaches each patient’s pain in a different way.
You have been offering Shiatsu for almost three years. Are there any measurable results?
Of course! At the end of each year we gather the information we have collected during our time in the clinic. Right now, I can give you the results we had for our first two years, that is, for the years 2017-2018. In total, we provided 563 Shiatsu sessions to 302 patients. 208 patients received only one session, 77 from 2 to 5 sessions and 17 between 6 and 14 sessions. This is because we mostly follow the flow of patients’ appointments with doctors and most of them only visit the Pain Management Clinic once, so, in this case, there is no room for repeated sessions.
Now, the incidents were as follows: 227 patients had developed musculoskeletal pain (e.g., sciatica, backache, frozen shoulder, tendonitis, etc.), 34 neuropathic pain, 12 cancerous pain, 12 post-operative pain, and the rest of them headache, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. During the 2 years there were about 15 cases of patients who did not want to receive a Shiatsu session. The majority of people who participated in sessions experienced a decrease in their symptoms, and when the sessions were repeated, improvement was always greater. However, it is important to note that patients were receiving medical treatment/medication at the same time, therefore it is difficult to assess the precise effect of Shiatsu.
Finally, it is important to note that in addition to any improvement in symptoms, patients reported an increased sense of well-being. Generally speaking, it is difficult to adequately assess the data we have. This could only be done through a long-term scientific research, but the necessary prerequisites do not currently exist. Still… what encourages us to extend our presence in the Pain Management Clinic is the fact that the doctors we work with are seeking a permanent presence of Shiatsu in the clinic, considering it an important complementary health practice to the work they are doing.
Can you tell us a bit about the structure of the clinic? Is there a fee for what you do or is it a voluntary offer? How many people does your team consist of? Who is the scientific partner in charge?
Our scientific partners are Mrs Kourouklis, Head of Pain Management Unit, Mrs Kremastinou and Mrs Tsirkiridou, with whom I have been working since the project began. All three of them are anesthesiologists and run together the clinic during the week.
The group of Shiatsu practitioners currently consists of six people. Each of us has chosen to work in the unit one particular day of the week, covering all its opening hours. We have organized a rotation system, where each trainee works in the clinic for a few months and, afterwards, is replaced by a teammate. We are all certified members of the Hellenic Shiatsu Society, a key prerequisite for participating in this project. We are not remunerated for this cooperation, which is based solely on donations. We all do this with great joy, because we all aim to broaden the recognition and effectiveness of Shiatsu as a complementary health practice.
Here, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Mrs Kourouklis, Mrs Kremastinou and Mrs Tsirkiridou with whom we work together. Since the very beginning we have been admitted to the Pain Management Clinic with great interest in our approach. Over the years, thanks to the professional consistency we all have and the results they see in the patients we monitor, a good relationship of appreciation and trust has developed between us. I must emphasize this.
*Translated in English by Kyriaki Frantzi, Registered Member of the Hellenic Shiatsu Society