Getting Back to Basics

Sep 21, 12:01 AM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

I've been using essential oils since 1993 and teaching aromatherapy since 1996. For a long time, aromatherapy was a hard sell. People had never heard of it, or simply did not want to believe it was a viable CAM therapy.

Public perception toward use of essential oils has changed radically in the last 3 or 4 years, and in many ways, I am grateful for this change. In other ways, the burgeoning popularity of aromatherapy positively horrifies me.

I regularly receive questions, requests and firsthand adverse effect reports from newbies, casual users, medical professionals, aromatherapy students and newly minted "certified" aromatherapists, many of whom don't have a clue about appropriate essential oil use. Many are asking questions that should have been answered in a very basic beginner aromatherapy class or by reading a reputable beginner aromatherapy book.

Essential oil users need to get back to basics.

This isn't rocket science. Every casual user should understand the basic properties and appropriate uses of about dozen or so commonly used essential oils, proper dosing, simple applications, and basic essential oil safety issues. Learning beginner level aromatherapy isn't scary or complicated. It takes about a day with a good instructor, or perhaps a week reading a reliable book. This is an investment in your health and the health of your family that will serve you for years, and most casual users don't ever need any more than one or two days instruction.

Someone who is a bit more interested might want to learn about 20 or 30 frequently used essential oils and a few more common applications, as well as practicing blending skills. Theoretically, this is what AIA and NAHA "level one" schools are supposed to be teaching, and is a suitable level of education for those who want to use essential oils in non-professional situations or for cottage-industry applications. If you don't aspire to do anything more than a few blends for friends and family, or to sell bath salts at the local farmer's market or church bazaar, this is a perfectly acceptable level of education.

Instead of learning the basics, I see beginners relying on Pinterest recipes, peer Facebook groups, aromatherapy "house parties" and flaky websites for advice while avoiding basic education like the plague, believing that knowledge is somehow evil. "I can't afford to go through a 200 hour program and get certified" or "I can't believe those professional aromatherapists are so arrogant about safety issues," are common refrains. No one thinks you need to go through an advanced program to learn how to use aromatherapy for the aches and pains from your power yoga class or to alleviate your 14-year-old daughter's menstrual cramps. But if you're a casual user, you shouldn't be operating in the dark and making it up as you go along, either. 

I also have issues with people who rush through 200 hour home study courses, don't spend any time mastering the material, aren't adequately tested, and hang out their shingle as "certified aromatherapists." If someone is bragging about her "advanced" qualifications, then why is she going onto a Facebook group and asking what essential oils she should use for her 6-year-old's sunburn? Why invest in (and recommend) an array of exotic and rare essential oils  when you don't understand the basic properties and uses of old standbys such as geranium, bergamot, sweet marjoram or tea tree oil? I won't belabor the point any further. Master the basics before tackling advanced cases (or taking an advanced class!). Study and practice, practice, practice. Don't be afraid to turn someone down or refer out a client because you don't have the experience to adequately help them.

Aromatherapy is like any other discipline. You can take a few classes and become a decent Sunday painter, or get an MFA and spend a lifetime perfecting a unique style and exhibiting in galleries across the country. Both are perfectly valid paths. Both require knowing how to set a palette, pick the right brush and mix colors. Basic knowledge.

Again, aromatherapy does not need to be rocket science. But you do need to know the basics before you start experimenting, in order to be safe and sensible. Whatever level of expertise you aspire to, those basics are still the same.


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