Fashion Icon Donna Karan Launches Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program at UCLA

When world-renowned fashion designer Donna Karan’s husband, Stephan Weiss, was dying of lung cancer in 2001, she was distressed that there was no place in the New York hospital that offered yoga and other meditative therapies to ease his suffering. The experience galvanized her into action.

“Much was missing from Stephan’s care,” Karan said. “He needed the knowledge of traditional Western medicine. But he also needed healing that can only be accessed from the heart and through the spirit. Out of my frustrations with the treatment at even the best medical facilities, a commitment was born. I am determined to do what I can to create a new model for wellness and patient care in hospitals and to address the needs of patients’ loved ones and the staff who are on the journey with them.”

Karan took a combination of Eastern healing techniques that she found effective and developed them into an actual program that has expanded to hospitals across the country. Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, part of the UCLA Health System, is the first hospital on the West Coast to adopt the program.

In partnership with Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation, the UCLA Health System will be offering a unique Eastern healing program designed to enhance the care of patients. The program will include:

  • Training of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff members in holistic practices to encourage optimal healing.
  • Introduction of Eastern healing modalities to patients, including yoga therapy (breath awareness, in-bed movement and guided meditation); Reiki (a Japanese vibrational energy therapy facilitated by light touch, on or slightly off the body, that balances the human biofield); essential oil therapy; nutrition; and contemplative care.

 

“UCLA Health System has a long tradition of integrating holistic health care techniques with traditional medical care,” said Dr. David Feinberg, president of the UCLA Health System, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System and associate vice chancellor for health sciences. “We are grateful to Ms. Karan for bringing her vision of holistic healing to our patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. It fits in perfectly with our mission of treating the whole patient rather than just a particular illness. We feel fortunate to partner with Donna on her vision of combining the very best in Western medicine with Eastern healing therapy techniques that enhance the patient’s health and well-being.”

“While traditional science has made miraculous strides in controlling and eradicating disease,” Karan said, “the key recuperative role played by promoting the emotional and spiritual well-being of the patient, along with the medical professionals and loved ones who care for them, has often been neglected. The objective of the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program is to train and then to provide integrative therapists in hospitals, outpatient care, support groups and private practices who can blend the best of Eastern and Western healing techniques.”

The UCLA Center for East-West Medicine currently offers traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, acupressure and herbal medicine, on an outpatient basis. UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center teaches the practice of mindfulness — the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences.

The Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program at the UCLA Health System is designed to take these advances to the next level.

“During this curriculum, medical professionals from the UCLA Health System will be trained in five modalities of treatment: yoga therapy, Reiki, essential oil therapy, nutrition and contemplative care,” said Gillian Cilibrasi, Urban Zen’s program director. “Each modality is introduced separately, and then students are taught how to integrate the modalities to address whatever symptoms the patient or client is experiencing, such as pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, constipation and exhaustion. Once integration has been learned, students begin their practical experience during their clinical rotation hours, working with patients, loved ones and caregivers.”

“This program of ‘integrative medicine’ addresses issues such as pain control, nausea, relaxation and sleep,” said Ellen Wilson, director of therapy services at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “There is essentially a menu of approaches, including yoga, aromatherapy, Reiki and meditation. The concept is that existing employees are trained in the techniques by the Urban Zen facilitators and then can provide these services to patients upon request or if recommended by the patients’ caregivers.”

Training for the first group of 30 professionals at UCLA, including doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers and other care providers, began in September, Wilson said, and the program will be ready to provide these services to patients this December.

“UCLA will then train new teams of 50 employees at a time, with the goal of eventually having trained 250 to 300 personnel available throughout the health system in both inpatient and outpatient areas,” Wilson said.

“Cancer patients are likely to be the first group to receive these holistic healing offerings at UCLA,” Feinberg said. “With more than 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer annually, there are many people and families who could benefit from an approach that involves treating the whole patient and his or her loved ones — and not just the disease.”

The UCLA Health System has committed to supporting Urban Zen at UCLA but also seeks philanthropic donations to augment the program’s reach.

“Such additional support will expedite UCLA’s ability to expand the program to hospitalized patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA and Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital,” Feinberg said.

For more information, visit www.rehab.ucla.edu.

The Urban Zen Foundation, founded in 2007 by fashion designer and humanitarian Donna Karan, seeks to raise awareness and inspire change in three initiatives: preservation of culture; empowering children in mind, body and spirit; and integrating Eastern healing techniques with Western medicine. Urban Zen designs forums, partners with and provides funding for like-minded organizations, and brings together experts to define solutions, implement action, and create programs and meaningful events to develop a community of like-minded people.

The UCLA Health System has for more than half a century provided the best in health care and the latest in medical technology to the people of Los Angeles and the world. Comprised of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA and the UCLA Medical Group, with its wide-reaching system of primary care and specialty care offices throughout the region, the UCLA Health System is among the most comprehensive and advanced health care systems in the world. For information about clinical programs or help in choosing a personal physician, call 800-UCLA-MD1 or visit www.uclahealth.org.

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