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Aromatherapy: What Should You Believe?

Apr 25, 2008
Aromatherapy is both an art and a science, widely used by many, but never since the advent of modern medicines in the 20th century has it, or other holistic therapies, been accepted by many in the medical profession. The reason given being the lack of proof that it works. The lack of funds available to carry out clinical trials on the scale required will of course ensure proof will not be forthcoming. But does such scepticism really matter?

More and more aromatherapists are qualifying each year and they are treating a growing number of their clients for ailments ranging from skin complaints such as cellulite to eczema, sports injuries, stress etc etc. There are a growing number of colleges offering aromatherapy courses and these range from an introduction as part of a beauty course to a full 3 year degree covering detailed studies of 100 hundred or so essential oils, their chemical and biological make up and reactions with the human body.

A survey in The Times revealed that 75% of people would like to see aromatherapy available on the NHS. The big question for the policy makers is how to integrate aromatherapy and conventional healthcare.

However the growth is happening at grass roots level in some hospitals where more and more nurses and midwives are becoming aromatherapists, using their own initiative. Also, many hospitals and other areas of care are encouraging aromatherapy treatments and a significant number are using essential oils in controlled research projects. Undoubtedly confidence is growing.

What examples are there of Aromatherapy in the NHS?

For example, over 70% of cancer centres offer aromatherapy in palliative care for cancer patients using appropriate massage techniques. Hammersmith, Royal Marsden and Charing Cross are amongst them.

The Neil Cliffe Cancer Centre has a comprehensive aromatherapy support service in place using essential oils and offers aromatherapy education for home use to its patients.

The adult leukaemia unit at the Christie Hoispital, Manchester has two aromatherapists offering support to patients, predominantly to improve the quality of life in a highly stressful environment. There are increasing examples of an aromatherapist being employed by hospice trusts. At Oakhaven Hospice in Lymington, essential oils are used to promote improved quality of life and to provide help with such conditions as nausea, anxiety, depression, aching and stiff joints, as well as pain.

For a number of years now aromatherapy massage has been a key treatment strategy at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, in areas such as the management of chronic pain in sufferers of multiple sclerosis. Sufferers obtain symptomatic relief of pain and other benefits include improved sleep, relaxation, improved joint mobility and a sense of wellbeing.

Aromatherapy has been practised in the midwifery and obstetrics sector for a number of years, The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford has operated an aromatherapy service since 1990 and a survey of 8,000 patients over 8 years concluded that over 50% of women who used aromatherapy treatments during labour found it effective in the reduction of fear and anxiety.

Aromatherapy plays a role in many other environments. Working with the deaf and deaf-blind; with autism; attention deficit hyperactive disorder; and with addictions and allergies, and also with care of the elderly and mental health sufferers.

How long have we known about the powers of Essential Oils?

The evidence is all around us, aromatherapy is working and there are thousands of individual case studies to prove it, with thousands of years of history behind it. The ancient Egyptians were using essential oils for both medicinal and cosmetic purposes hundreds of years before the birth of Christ., The ancient Greeks were fond of aromatic baths and they discovered the spiritual power of flowers and their ability to help sleep, relax, refresh and revitalise, The Romans and Chinese have used plant extracts to treat all sorts of ailments. More recently, in the 19th century, French soldiers injured in battle, were treated in their hospitals with essential oils. It is also well documented that during the time of diseases such as yellow fever the workers in the perfume area of Grasse, in southern France who harvested flowers such as Lavender remained immune to the diseases.

But it was not until the 1930"s that the term "Aromatherapy" was first used by the Frenchman Gattefosse. He accidentally discovered the healing power of Lavender. Having burnt his hand he plunged it into a nearby container, thinking it was water. It wasn't, it was Lavender and the burn healed quickly and without scarring. Since then many have promoted the use of Aromatherapy, but it is in the home, with use by trained therapists or anyone learning more about the essential oils and trying to experiment, that will see increased usage.

Perhaps some of the proprietary supermarket brands have gone over the top and do not do justice to the term aromatherapy in naming the shampoos and bubble baths as "aromatherapy" products, but there is nothing in law to stop them. Furthermore, I am not a great advocate of pure essential oils being freely available to anyone in a supermarket as they are potentially dangerous products if abused or even used incorrectly.

How can I find out more about aromatherapy?

Lastly, for those of you wishing to learn more about aromatherapy and perhaps even get a qualification at varying levels there are colleges throughout the country running courses under the umbrella of bodies such as ITEC, VTCT, NVQ, BTEC etc as well as a number of correspondence courses.
About the Author
Duncan Bain is a Director of Natural Touch Aromatherapy and has been involved with essential oils for many years. He has visited many of the countries where essential oil are produced and is committed to buying direct from source, ensuring monies benefit local economies.
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