Education and Aromatherapy

Over the last few years, aromatherapy has shown itself to be a burgeoning and fashionable, if not exciting, therapy.  It is especially popular in the United Kingdom, Japan, North America and, to a lesser extent, in Australia.  Due to legislation it is much less widely known in the European Union.  In the United Kingdom, there are very few shops now that do not display some sort of product that claims to be aromatherapy.

Statistics are hard to come by, but it is thought that there are around 8,000 practitioners of aromatherapy, but at different levels and in variable disciplines.  One of the problems has been that aromatherapy has never really defined itself.  Go into any bookshop and you will find that the shelves are weighed down with the books on aromatherapy.  Most of these books are fundamental and very repetitive.  If you attempt to define aromatherapy other than seeming to suggest  a few drops of essential oil in a vegetable oil, that is going to produce amazing results.  You run into difficulties.  In my opinion, one of the best books on aromatherapy was the seminal work by Robert Tisserand called The Art of Aromatherapy.  The title itself was significant.  Early authors, like Robert Tisserand and Tricia Davis, were very holistic in their approach to the sensitive subject of aromatherapy.  Early education laid stress upon holistic principles and the cohesion of mind, body and spirit.  However, the as yet unexplained demand for aromatherapy drew in all manner of commercial interests before the therapy was able to form itself and refine its objectives.

Essential oils form the backbone of aromatherapy treatment and products.  They are also classically the materials of the perfumer and are now used extensively in cosmetics, especially body care products and in the promotion of health and well being as well as in the treatment of medical conditions.  Manifestly then, there has been a wide or broad brush approach as to what aromatherapy really means.  It is arguable how long aromatherapy has been around, but the mid 80s seems to have been a take off period.  So let’s say that its popularity has increased over 15 years, probably peaking in the millennium year of 2000.  Amateurs and professionals alike have either wanted to use the therapy or just dabble with essential oils.

Education has tried to meet the needs of all concerned.  It is accepted that some people want to treat disease, yet other want to make a nice but safe bath oil.  Both use the term aromatherapy.  Sometimes consumers see “education” as a service with ideals.  The principle of free education is enshrined in most people’s thinking and undoubtedly state education is the route most people have to follow in all walks of life.  Aromatherapy in its early days of course grew from a series of private fee paying schools, mostly run by enthusiasts and lovers of the therapy coming from healing backgrounds.  It didn’t take long, however, for this growth industry, because that’s what education is, to be leapt upon by all manner of schools in the private and state sector.  

Not unnaturally, this lead to a series of debates and arguments to arrive at that term so beloved by educationalist “standards”.  

The therapy itself had formed into a group of professional organisations with membership that now studies a core curriculum under the umbrella central organisation, the Aromatherapy Organisations Council.  Not unfairly, it may be argued that such a system was designed to be protectionist, not only of  therapist but also of the schools businesses.  Even so, even minimum study requirements were in place.  Schools exist outside this setting but the AOC core curriculum is a good base for those contemplating a career in aromatherapy whatever the provider.

Setting standards is one thing, but such standards do not always meet the needs of those active in healing or who have a more holistic approach, not only to medicine but also to other areas where aroma can be utilised.  Indeed, in holistic thought it is very difficult to divorce one action from another.  The origin of aromatherapy was not mechanistic, but rather something that worked with the body’s defence systems, the mind etc.

As I write this short article I am looking at a letter from a student “lots of thanks for the article.  It’s amazing – very simple and very deep at a time.  This is exactly what I love to read and what I am missing  so much in these dry and scientific work books on aromatherapy.  The philosophy of aromatherapy – context and perspective.”  If aromatherapy initially concentrated upon the art and individual treatment, in many cases it has come to mean an unfortunate reliance on chemistry and analysis for its backbone.  

Learning the chemistry of essential oils is of value, but not if it shifts the nature of the therapy.  Anyone looking for education in aromatherapy should be aware of the bias that their course or school has.  The AOC has produced a core curriculum, covering a variety of matters, but naturally the way the curriculum is taught can vary and theirs is not the only route to follow.  Once a person has qualified in “aromatherapy” there are a variety of courses that are open to the student.  These may vary from the pathology of disease to the production of essential oils.  Invariably these secondary courses enable the student to more fully utilise previous knowledge in direct application                                                                                                                                                                                  s .     A n   e x a m p l e   o f   t h i s   i s   A r o m a c o s m e t o l o g y   "!,   w h i c h   h e l p s   a r o m a t h e r a p i s t s   t o   b e t t e r   u n d e r s t a n d   t h e   n a t u r e   o f   s k i n   a n d   s k i n   c a r e   u s i n g   a r o m a t i c   p r i n c i p l e s   t h r o u g h o u t .     S u c h   c o u r s e s   a r e   n o t   j u s t   f o r   t h e   q u a l i f i e d   a r o m a t h e r a p i s t ,   b u t   a r e   m o s t l y   o p e n   t o   a n y o n e  who wants to study aromatics further.  

The tendency in education seems to have been to produce therapists but this seems to deny the great interest that there is from the public at large in the use of essential oils.  There are many social uses of essential oils and consumers have every right to know more about herbs, their origins and uses.  At the same time as the public at large is getting more and more interested in aromatics, it appears that education is trying to narrow access to the information or the therapy.  This can be perceived by the drive for statutory regulation of title and for a progressive approach to education e.g. you can’t study this until you have studied that.

This all seems a far cry from where aromatherapy began.  If you look into the credentials of many of the original aromatherapists, much valuable work was done by correspondence and distance learning.  There is still a great need for that today.  People cannot always travel to London or other big city centres where most schools are based.  The fact that around the world huge distances are involved seems to be sometimes lost on UK educators.  The US for example has many distance learning programmes of very high quality, simply because of the vast distances involved.  

At Fragrant Studies the emphasis has always been upon the benefits of studying aromatherapy in practical of terms.  That is why a broad spectrum of specialities has always been included in the modular programme.  Whilst the emphasis has always been on career prospects, whether that be as an aromatherapy practitioner, product design consultant, even educator or writer, allowance has been made for social and domestic uses.  In our opinion, education should be enjoyable, giving as broad a view as possible of the possibilities that a knowledge of essential oils and other components can provide.

Anyone considering education in aromatherapy has therefore a wide spectrum to choose from.  If wanting to work professionally always ensure that the foundation course can lead to an appropriate insurance scheme.  Especially look out for the quality and nature of the course.  Many of the state sector courses do no more than give a taster of what is available.  So if you catch the aromatic bug, make an informed choice because not all courses are alike. It is clear that some courses are dynamic, both in leadership and in depth of understanding, which is not the same as knowledge.  The old adage can apply – you only get what you pay for - but that’s not the whole truth in aromatherapy education.  There are some really good courses around at quite modest prices, many of which add up to a firm understanding of what after all, is still a very new therapy, which has still to define itself.  You too can join that formative therapy and enjoy the benefits of fragrance and aroma even if in the process you have to learn the difference between a terpene and a ketone and the difference between romance and reality.