What Does "Certified Aromatherapist" Mean?

Aug 11, 08:11 PM

By Katharine Koeppen, RA

On many websites and social media forums you will see comments by someone stating that they are a certified aromatherapist. This statement is meant to give the reader the impression that the commenter is a person with professional training and experience. What does it mean when someone says they are a certified aromatherapist? The short answer: absolutely nothing!

Aromatherapy is unregulated by our government, and there is no licensing authority for the profession on a state or federal level. Absolutely anyone can certify anyone else as an aromatherapist, and the "certified" individual does not even have to receive so much as an hour of training in aromatherapy or essential oil use.

At this time, there is no nationally standardized training to certify as an aromatherapist, athough there is some voluntary oversight of aromatherapy education by the 2 national professional organizations, the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) and the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Those teaching aromatherapy can apply to have their classes or school approved by these organizations, with different levels of approval granted depending on content and length of coursework offered. At this time, a minimum of 200 hours is recommended for professional-level training. AIA and NAHA don't fully agree with each other, however, on what constitutes an ideal curriculum, and AIA has declared its own certified designation, CMAIA, which requires 400 documented hours of training in specific areas. A NAHA or AIA approved school may or may not offer their own "certification."

To make things even more confusing, many fine instructors (including quite a few who are internationally renowned) teach and may grant certifications in their own curricula, which are not formally approved by either organization. At the other end of the spectrum are MLM devotees who may state that they have been certified by the company with which they are affiliated, but who seldom receive anything more than sales training.

There is one standard designation which members of the profession recognize, and that is a registered aromatherapist (RA). In order to become nationally registered, RAs must complete a minimum of 200 hours of education at an AIA or NAHA approved school or its equivalent (determined by a formal portfolio review of the applicant's training). Additionally, the applicant must pass a national, proctored examination and recertify every 5 years by completing 100 hours of continuing education from reputable providers. RAs are overseen by the Aromatherapy Registration Council and listed in a public registry. RA is a nationally recognized designation in the aromatherapy profession.

Some aromatherapists may call themselves by other designations (CCAP, CA, CAT, cAT, CArt, etc.), but such designations only hold weight with the instructor or school granting them. In some cases, the designation has been invented by the aromatherapist herself!

In summation, a certification is meaningless, because it can describe an aromatherapist who has received anything from an excellent formal education to no education at all, and who may or may not be affiliated with a professional organization. The next time someone tells you that they are a "certified" aromatherapist, ask them to explain exactly what that means and to give you their educational credentials. Look up the school or person who granted their certification and see if it comes from a legitimate entity. Ask if they have state certification, registration or licensure in another profession such as massage therapy or nursing, which is important if they are offering services which involve physical contact with clients (with rare exceptions which vary by state, an aromatherapist may not accept money for performing services which involve physical contact unless they possess a license to touch). 

Again, there are no regulations that exist within this profession. As the industry grows and becomes more integrated into complementary healthcare, perhaps state or national certifications or licenses will be offered and become the norm for those who call themselves aromatherapists. Until then, if you wish to engage the services of an aromatherapist, perform your due diligence.


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