Aromatherapy is just one type of alternative medicine now being used at some major medical centers. Doctors say these types of treatments can help calm nervous kids down and that helps them to start healing.
14-year-old Hanna Miller says sheâ??s had mysterious pain on her side that's plagued her for more than a year. "It's throbby and achey and sometimes it's stabby," says Hanna.
Yet no one could figure out what was causing the pain.
"We've been through test after test. We've been through lab work repeatedly. We've been through cat scans, x-rays," says Hannaâ??s mother Heather Miller.
When she finally visited the Complex Pain Medicine Clinic, doctors diagnosed her as having "chronic pain" and suggested an unusual course of treatment.
It didn't involve drugs, just smelling scented oils, Reiki and Tibetan singing bowls.
Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Rebstock is the clinic's medical director. She says alternative medicine is becoming main stream as more and more studies back up their use. While they don't always know exactly why these treatments work, Rebstock says they seem to help kids relax and that can spark healing
"It was better than any other medicine that I could have given her at that time," says Dr. Rebstock. "If they think this is part of play and relaxing and they're hearing things that are pleasant for them, they're also going to feel like they can get better, more relaxed. This doctor isn't threatening to me. This doctor is going to help me."
Registered Nurse Marian Mcevilly is the hospital's expert on these techniques. She's the one doctors call on when they've run out of treatment options.
"We just have to figure out which works best for which patient and use that on them to help them heal themselves," says Mcevilly.
Her regimen includes aromatherapy, which is having patients smell different oils depending on their problems, Tibetan singing bowls, an ancient instrument that is supposed to shift energy and the emotional freedom technique or EFT. The technique has patients tap their fingers on acupressure points around their body while talking out loud about whatever is bothering them.
"People think I'm crazy, especially the doctors. They say, oh, you're doing that tapping thing. But when they see it work, they're the first ones to call me to ask me to do the tappy thing with some kid," says Mcevilly.
Mcevilly says she's not sure how it helps, but patients like Hanna Miller say her pain is now diminished.
"It just makes me calm down," says Hanna.
Hanna says the pain is still there, but it's now tolerable. Both she and her mother believe she's finally on the right path to healing.
"I hope it all goes away and I hope she lives a normal life," says Heather Miller.
Hannaâ??s treatment isn't completely drug free, she still takes one medication and undergoes physical therapy.
Right now, Children's National Medical Center is using alternative medicine in their pain clinic, as well as for some kids who are dealing with a lot of fear and anxiety about being in the hospital.
They are testing aromatherapy for nausea, especially for people who get sick when coming out of anesthesia.