Integrating aromatherapy & becoming a flexible therapist
So often, we see Aromatherapy listed as a very separate treatment on a holistic therapist’s menu. But why does it have to be an entirely standalone treatment?
Aromatherapy dates back thousands of years; Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and many other cultures used it as their main form of medicine until synthetic medicine established. It was French chemist, Gattefossé, who first coined the term, in 1928, professing pure essential oils to be beneficial as long as they were not broken down.
A ‘whole’ new world: The integrative holistic approach
Where historical cultures experimented with complementary medicines like Aromatherapy, the modern world of medicine, whilst obviously much more advanced, can sometimes also seem reductionist, preferring the simple and obvious, seeing things as either ‘black or white': things either are or they aren’t. Quite often, our medical world works with cause and effect, looking at only part of the picture – suggesting that if you have a headache you take headache tablets to make it go away. Whilst this may help, simplification theories argue that science has been reduced to make things simple. But are things really as simple and easy as modern society suggests?
As holistic therapists we appreciate the value of seeing the person as a 'whole' – we consider the world to be all different shades of grey, rather than just ‘black or white’. That headache might be caused by emotional stress and the prescribed tablet might not work on the deeper layers of such underlying causes – only the symptoms. Our therapies complement the medical world; we appreciate the ‘holistic’ view, seeking to also help the underlying problem and treat the whole – it’s what we, as aromatherapists, believe in. However, if we appreciate this, why not take it further?
Why do we, or perhaps our clients, so often tend to see our therapies as so separate? “I’ll have XYZ treatment please,” clients might say. Is it because of how we design our therapy menus, centred on treatment options rather than time options, or is it because we’re used to things being so simplified? At risk of sounding extreme, why do we book appointments according to which particular treatment the client desires - specifying ‘treatment XYZ’ - and not just allocate time for a ‘holistic therapy’ appointment and treat as appropriate to that client on that particular day, whether that be Reflexology with a little Reiki, or some Aromatherapy with Indian Head Massage? Why not integrate therapies as appropriate to that specific client at that time?
The idea of flexible Aromatherapy: Mix, match and add essential oils!
What we’re questioning is: why does Aromatherapy and the use of essential oils have to be just a standalone treatment? For many of us, it may not be; but it’s an interesting question!
Aromatherapy can be integrative; essential oils can be combined with other therapies, and/or Aromatherapy Massage can be combined with a little of another treatment at the beginning or end of a session - mixing and matching as appropriate!
Add essential oils
One of my favourite ways to integrate Aromatherapy into other treatments is by utilising essential oils in other therapies. For example, we can use essential oils in Reflexology. This is particularly poignant because some argue that the powers of absorption of essential oils might be better in your feet – so what better way to encourage the body to heal than by giving a double healing whammy - utilising essential oils whilst stimulating the reflexes to work the body through Reflexology?
You might already use essential oils, such as Tea Tree or Lemon, whilst doing Reflexology - to help cleanse the feet. However, it’s also about being more selective with the essential oils we use during Reflexology! Why not tailor a blend, in a carrier oil, to the client’s needs so that the feet can absorb the oils and have an effect on that client’s treatment objectives? For example, if the client is tired, we might work the pineal gland reflex during Reflexology, but we could simultaneously use Grapefruit essential oil in our Reflexology medium to help energise that client, or if there is a hormonal imbalance we might work reflexes to support this whilst using a blend of Geranium and Rose.
Likewise, essential oils can be beneficial in this way in all holistic treatments – combined with Indian Head Massage, Reiki, facials, and anything else you offer. It can also be a nice way to start a treatment and set the scene – I often introduce my Indian Head Massage treatment by asking the client to take deep breaths and doing some Aromatherapy breathing with cleansing Lime essential oil!
Mix and match
What about the massage part of Aromatherapy, you might ask? Of course, we don’t want to ignore that! The concentration on light massage of the spine (stimulating the nervous system) and the lymphatic system plays a huge part in Aromatherapy which is not to be ignored. So, whilst there can be benefits from integrating essential oils into other therapies, the power of a full Aromatherapy treatment should not be ignored. Aromatherapy massage, however, can be mixed and matched with other therapies – e.g. by adding extra time on for a little bit of additional Reiki, Reflexology, or whatever the client needs, at the end of their Aromatherapy massage treatment. Sometimes it is just thinking outside the box as to how to best utilise the client’s time.
Being a flexible therapist is just about this: if the client could benefit from it, put it into their treatment. Being an Aromatherapist is not about making a client choose between therapies, it’s about helping that client’s health at the time. Likewise, it can be adding little things in, like an Aroma Foot Soak, to tailor an Aromatherapy session to that client. Essential-oil-loving-clients – if you’re reading – why not ask your therapists to integrate
Finding the balance – Don’t lose the essence or over-stimulate
A note of caution, however, is that we do have to be careful when taking an integrated approach to therapies, ensuring we enhance the treatment rather than compromise it. We need to be mindful about what treatment mix we combine essential oils with so as not to a) lose the essence of Aromatherapy as a standalone treatment, and b) over-stimulate the client by mixing more stimulating therapies with very powerful essential oils. For example, we might not want to combine essential oils with just a plain full body Swedish massage, not just because it loses the critical importance of why we do Aromatherapy (i.e. gently working the spine and nervous system so that the oils are the focus), but also so it is not over-stimulating. A new client to Aromatherapy, who might be sensitive to the power of essential oils, might require less treatment time with very stimulating Aromatherapy massage but could have this combined with a less toxin-stimulating treatment such as Reiki – or they might want to try a Reflexology treatment with essential oils so they can get to experience the power of the oils before trying a full Aromatherapy treatment.
We must not combine too much, and we must not lose the balance; though, if done correctly, an integrative approach to Aromatherapy and use of essential oils can really enhance the therapies we offer. It offers choice and flexibility and reinforces the holistic approach.
Tips for integrating Aromatherapy into other therapies
Some great ways to integrate and enhance Aromatherapy are:
Aromatherapy Foot Soak
Include a foot soak during your consultation, using essential oils. Try adding Himalayan Pink Salt mixed with Rose or Lavender essential oil to calm the client at the start of the treatment.
If you are an Aromatherapist that offers facials, you can obviously mix your own bespoke facial blends. Try using hydrolats as cleansers and toners, and lovely essential oils such as Chamomile, Jasmine, Sweet Orange or Mandarin in appropriate carrier oils for balancing skin, depending on the skin type. You can also mix up a range of bespoke moisturising blends with cosmetic bases, carrier oils and pure essential oils.
Diffusing during treatment
You might already diffuse essential oils during your other therapies - but how about you make it part of the consultation so that the client gets to choose the blend based on their needs and objectives? This is a lovely way to introduce Aromatherapy to clients who may not know much about it – and they get the benefit of the oils whilst enjoying their other treatment.
There are so many ways to integrate Aromatherapy into everything you offer – so remember to think outside the box: mix, match and add essential oils!
Read other articles by Nicole Barton