Treating the entire patient using an integrative approach
“Patients are usually referred to me by the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute at GBMC and the Integrative and Palliative Medicine (IPM) team. A mind-body session is a collaborative session where I introduce different techniques targeted to lessen the patient’s particular stress or symptom burden,” Forsythe-Chisolm explains. “We work on things like relaxation techniques, guided imagery, expressive arts like journaling, and yoga breathwork.”
Forsythe-Chisolm starts each session by checking in with the patient to see what initial ideas they have about mind-body work, or if they have any specific challenges they would like to target. Sessions usually begin with guided imagery and mind-body scans.
“I’ll introduce the support of our guided meditation playlist, which patients can practice. There are seven different meditations that are about 10 minutes long,” Forsythe-Chisolm says. She then works with the patient to come up with a self-care plan, including things they can do throughout the day to navigate challenge, overwhelm, or pain.
“You don’t always have to meditate for an hour or go to yoga class,” she explains. “One of the most important shifts that you can make for feelings of overwhelm is to begin to check in mindfully and with self-compassion with the thoughts that are rolling through your head.”
Forsythe-Chisolm says most patients see her for an average of eight sessions, but reoccurring anxiety around a diagnosis or upcoming procedures can mean more sessions. According to Forsythe-Chisolm, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on anxiety among patients.
“The challenges of receiving a diagnosis were really magnified through the pandemic,” Forsythe-Chisolm says. “Since the pandemic started, I’ve been able to do video visits [instead of solely in-patient bedside care]. I can have an hour-long session in a more quiet, centered way and be available for ongoing support for patients and caregivers.”
Mind-body sessions aren’t limited to patients. Caregivers and staff members can also take advantage of support. Forsythe-Chisolm emphasizes that sessions are designed to be easy, learn-on-the-go techniques we all can use.
Mind-body sessions can be offered in educational format with focus on present moment challenges and anxieties, but the self-care plan is really customized for each patient’s strengths and preferences. Forsythe-Chisolm does refer patients to therapists and other specialists if the need is warranted.
The vision for a mind-body specialist comes from Dr. Delia Chiaramonte, Medical Director of the IPM team at Gilchrist and GBMC. The IPM team aims to treat people facing serious illness using a whole person approach. Whether facing a new cancer diagnosis, difficult medical decisions, or distressing physical and emotional symptoms, the IPM team helps to decrease the suffering of Gilchrist/GBMC patients and their families.