What is Clinical Aromatherapy?

by Jade Shutes

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Recently I was reading through a dialogue in an aromatherapy forum and was interested in how some individuals began their dialogue with “I am a clinical aromatherapist”. I also see this on occasion when ‘surfing’ the web, so to speak. So lets have a look at what it actually means to be a clinical aromatherapist or for that matter, what clinical aromatherapy is. Lets begin with the word ‘clinical’.

The term comes through the French “clinique” from the Greek “kline” (a couch or bed). Clinical medicine was (and is) practiced at the bedside. (http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=21959)

The word “clinical” can be defined as: : of, relating to, or conducted in or as if in a clinic: as a : involving direct observation of the patient b : based on or characterized by observable and diagnosable symptoms (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clinical)

Medterms defines clinical as: 1. Having to do with the examination and treatment of patients. 2. Applicable to patients. A laboratory test may be of clinical value (of use to patients).

Which is the same as the medical dictionary definition: adj 1. relating to the examination and healing of patients. 2. relating to people in a clinic.

Now let’s add ‘Aromatherapy’. A commonly accepted definition for aromatherapy is: the therapeutic use and application of genuine and authentic plant derived essential oils for healing body, mind, and spirit. We may also find the definition as “the art and science of applying essential oils therapeutically for the express purpose of healing”.

Clinical Aromatherapy Icon

So when we add the two together we may get to a a definition that is something like: Clinical Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use and application of genuine and authentic plant derived essential oils for the healing of patients (clients) based upon examination of client needs and state of health. Is this not what the vast majority of us are doing?

The Medical dictionary also had a definition of clinical aromatherapist as follows:
clinical aromatherapist (kliˑ·ni·kl ·rōˈ·m·theˑ·r·pist): n a person who is trained and professionally certified in the use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes. (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/clinical)

Not so many years ago there was an emphasis on Holistic Aromatherapy, whereas in the past few years, suddenly individuals in the aromatherapy profession want to distinguish themselves as Clinical Aromatherapists. Is there really a difference? Is there a difference in knowledge, in application, and/or in philosophy, theory, or practice?

My guess would be that there is very little difference between those who call themselves Holistic Aromatherapist (my term of preference) or Clinical Aromatherapist. And my guess to is that as long as you gain your education from a respected school or individual that your knowledge base will be very similar regardless of what the program was called or what you call yourself.

There is this fine balance in professional aromatherapy today between holding steadfast to the principles of holism whilst also, for some, trying to advocate the use of essential oils within the traditional or allopathic healthcare system so prevalent in our country (USA). I fear that in some instances those calling themselves clinical aromatherapists may be forgetting their holistic roots in a blind desire to be accepted by a system of medicine that will never truly be holistic.

For those of you who have spent time, energy, passion, and money becoming aromatherapists, know that we are all ‘clinical aromatherapists’ in the sense that, I believe, we are committed to using essential oils therapeutically whether it be for our clientele, our selves, our families or our community. Just because someone calls him or herself a clinical aromatherapist does not mean that they have some hidden knowledge only available to clinical aromatherapists. It is only a title, more often than not, a self bestowed title.

Are nurses more capable of clinical aromatherapy than the average aromatherapist? Absolutely not! I have much respect for the world of nursing and even greater respect for those holistic nurses who have pursued aromatherapy education. But their qualifications in nursing (even with their incredible knowledge of the human body, disease etiology, and care) do not necessarily make them better aromatherapists nor does it mean that they and they alone are the only practitioners of ‘clinical’ or ‘therapeutic’ aromatherapy.

We all have a role to play in the unfolding of the practice of aromatherapy: holistic, clinical, or otherwise. These are just words, words that have meaning only by how you define them, embrace them, and most importantly practice them.

Holistic or Allopathic?

In this same forum on aromatherapy referred to at the beginning of this blog entry, was a question from someone asking something like “what essential oils would be useful for someone suffering with anxiety?” There were several responses, some of which began with “I am a clinical aromatherapist and would recommend such and such essential oils” or “I am a registered aromatherapist and I would recommend such and such essential oil”.

There were many other responses recommending other essential oils, but NO ONE asked any questions about the person to whom they were attempting ‘to treat’. Not one question about: how long have they been dealing with anxiety, what is currently happening in their life, how old are they, what is their general health, their diet, their lifestyle, their exercise regime, their social support network, etc. etc. Do they tend to be grounded? Is depression a part of their anxiety? etc. etc.

This to me is a core principle in the practice of holistic aromatherapy otherwise it seems a bit allopathic, you have this condition use this oil. A holistic perspective, on the other hand, takes into consideration many factors when deciding upon which essential oils to use. Whether it is a forum or not, we, as aromatherapists, should be asking valuable questions to fine tune our reasons for choosing specific essential oils, methods of application, and dilutions.

And I would hope that regardless of whether you choose to call yourself a clinical aromatherapist or a holistic aromatherapist, that as representatives of a growing field of holistic healthcare you remember, we are not cartesian allopathic practitioners. What makes holistic healthcare so valuable and unique is that we do ask questions, we do explore the clients life, health, lifestyle, emotional and physical health, and we listen to our clients ‘story’ to come up with a plan that may be of benefit to them.