I wrote this post in January for a Facebook adoption group I’m part of in response to one of the moderators requests. The group is a secret group so members weren’t able to share the post with their friends. I offered to transfer the post here to my blog so they could then send people here while still protecting the sanctity of the group.
I’m still working on Part Two of the Patterns in Trauma Anxiety. I hope to have that up soon.
Last week I was asked if I’d be willing to post my current perspective on the post that was made a year ago urging caution in the use and discussion of essential oils. Before that post was written I had been contemplating pursuing aromatherapy certification for several months.
I have used many holistic modalities in the past 20 years since moving to the uber crunchy Pacific Northwest, including intermittent use of essential oils. Since I started seriously using essential oils two years ago and experienced some amazing and some scary results I felt like I really needed to stop contemplating and pursue certification. An essential oil induced seizure and this post kind of gave me the final push I needed to stop procrastinating. So during 2015 that is what I did. I enrolled in and completed the Scholar’s Program (400 hours minimum) at Aromahead Institute. I’m currently working through classes from the Tisserand Institute and the East/West School for Aromatic Studies.
I am truly and deeply concerned over what I see on social media regarding essential oil use. I get the enthusiasm and I love it; essential oils are wonderful. They’re also powerful and can cause permanent harm if used improperly. I’m concerned over the disregard for safety and the blind trust put into company X or Y because they said “this” or they have “that on staff”.
First off, there is no French vs. British method of aromatherapy. This is one of the things I see people most commonly use to excuse the ingestion of essential oils because company X told them it was safe. I’m truly concerned that we’re going to see a large population of people needing liver and kidney transplants in the future due to frequent improper essential oil ingestion. It truly is that serious of an issue.
If anything the British are more heavy essential oil users than the French. In the UK you can go to the hospital and be seen by a clinical aromatherapist who will also have some form of licensed medical training and s/he will treat and prescribe essential oil remedies for you if indicated. They openly use aromatherapy in hospitals and there is significant aromatherapy research done in the UK. That is so far beyond the scope of practice in most other countries. In France you go to the pharmacist and s/he can prescribe aromatherapy for you if they deem it necessary.
Second there is no “therapeutic grade”; there is GC/MS testing and GC/MS testing is where it’s at. However, GC/MS testing in itself is not foolproof so you still have to trust the supplier. Accountability is critical here.
I approach my practice very conservatively, as do most certified aromatherapists. We tend to operate under a ‘less is more’ mindset. I refer to it as the minimalist approach to using essential oils. As a trauma survivor parenting a trauma survivor, I have tailored my practice to working with adults and children who are dealing with the long-term effects of early exposure to trauma or domestic violence. When I start working with a client I take an extensive history. I need to know as much as possible that they’re comfortable sharing.
I try to get that information while at the same time keeping it just shy of prying or triggering any traumatic memories. It’s important for me to know the little things because those are important in how I choose whether to pick this oil over that oil. For example, there are six hundred varieties of helichrysum. Knowing which one to choose for this client over that client comes down to those little details and the chemistry of the oil.
I may be working with siblings that experienced the same trauma but chances are they didn’t process it the same way so their blends are going to be different to address the needs of each one.
Aromatherapy is amazing for dealing with the long-term effects of trauma because of its ability to bypass the blood brain barrier through the olfactory nerves and reach the limbic system to impact the amygdala. For anyone who has seen the movie “Inside Out”, the amygdala is “the control board” the emotions were fighting over.
There is real science behind choosing the right oil for each situation. There are several oils that interfere with medications; some of them quite dangerously so. That is why it’s imperative that anyone taking any kind of medication not use any essential oils without consulting with a certified clinical aromatherapist and their physician. In reality, unless their physician is an outside the box thinker the chances of them being informed on aromatherapy are slim, but a certified clinical aromatherapist can prepare studies for you to share with your physician to inform them as to what you’re trying to accomplish with aromatherapy.
There are also several oils that can aggravate pre-existing health conditions. There has been some talk about the risk of using of essential oils with epilepsy but other health conditions at risk include hemophilia, heart disease, diabetes, and many more. This is why working with a certified clinical aromatherapist especially in these cases is extremely important for your own personal safety.
There are very few “one size fits all” blends in aromatherapy. It literally makes my skin crawl when I read through the ingredients in some of these blends on the market today and see oils I know are unsafe for vast quantities of the population, oils like rosemary, peppermint, and/or eucalyptus, and there are no warnings on the labels. As an epileptic who works extensively with children, I work only with oils that have the least safety issues possible. When there is any possibility of safety concerns I always address it.
There are close to 400 essential oils or absolutes that we have chemistry data on. This doesn’t even take into consideration the different caryotypes available for some oils. i.e. frankincense, thyme, etc. I’m sure there are many more that will be brought to light in the years ahead as we have more trade interactions with native populations who rely on traditional natural medicines. This is one of my concerns as an environmental conservationist, but I digress. It makes no sense to me why company X or Y would choose an unsafe oil when there’s a safe oil that works just as well or better.
Now as wonderful as aromatherapy is, it has its limits. Essential oils should not be used at all on children 0-2 years of age. Furthermore, parents of children in this age bracket need to be careful which oils they apply to themselves. It should be used only under the guidance of a properly trained aromatherapist on children 2-5 years of age. It is not a cure all.
Aromatherapists do not diagnose, prescribe or treat illness. We educate and support clients to empower them in addressing their healthcare concerns. Aromatherapy is a supportive therapy. It works in supporting the body systems where support is needed when it’s used properly. When it’s used improperly it further taxes the body. It’s not a preventative you use like vitamins. If you aren’t dealing with an issue that indicates the need for aromatherapy, you shouldn’t be using aromatherapy. Aromatherapy can support sleep disturbances, minor seasonal respiratory issues, and mood management challenges, to name a few. It should always be used diluted even when the bottle says it doesn’t need to be. It does have a shelf life. Most oils last over two years without oxidizing but some do not.
I encourage consumers to look at their suppliers product catalog or website. See what if any safety information they share about their products (all their products). Check out how they name their single essential oils. One thing I’ve noticed is that some companies change the name of oils from the Latin botanical name for one oil, to common nursery plant name for another oil, to obscure ancient plant name for something else. As a consumer, former botany student, and aromatherapist this troubles me. It makes me wonder what they’re trying to hide.
©2016 Cynthia Tamlyn-CCA
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