Aromatherapy in medical settings


From treating anxiety to the side effects of cancer medication, there is a growing use of essential oils in clinical settings, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON

FOR MOST of us, aromatherapy means essential oils used for massage therapy or home-use but alongside this popular form of aromatherapy is a growing speciality of the use of essential oils in clinical settings.

Next month, more than 250 people from 23 countries will come to Dublin to discuss the clinical advances in aromatherapy in hospitals and hospices around the world.

“There has been an increasing number of [scientific] papers published on the effectiveness of essential oils in hospitals and hospices over the last 10 years,” says Rhiannon Harris, clinical aromatherapist and teacher of clinical aromatherapy who has organised the Botanica 2012 conference in Trinity College Dublin.

At the conference, researchers will present papers on topics ranging from the use of essential oils to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA to how lavender oil capsules are effective in the treatment of mild to moderate anxiety disorders.

“The UK and Ireland are world leaders in the use of clinical aromatherapy in cancer care and palliative care settings,” explains Harris who has previously given seminars at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, Dublin. And hospitals such as the Royal Marsden in London and Christies in Manchester have complementary therapy teams who work as part of the multidisciplinary teams treating cancer patients.

Individualised aromatherapy inhalers to treat side effects of cancer treatments such as nausea, anxiety and sleep disturbance are an example of clinical aromatherapy in cancer settings. One Dublin-based aromatherapist, Fiona Hedigan, makes and sells aromasticks to her clients (see and four experts in the use of aromatherapy in cancer care in Britain will speak at the conference.

The use of lavender to treat mild to moderate anxiety will also be reported. One German double blind randomised study found that an oral lavender oil capsule (which are available as over-the-counter medicines in Germany) was as effective as a benzodiazepine for the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder.

“The significance of this finding is that the lavender capsules are available for a fraction of the price and don’t have the drowsiness and addictive problems of the benzodiazepine,” says Harris. There is also a stronger tradition of self-medicating herbal preparations in Germany.

The use of essential oils in the eradication of MRSA in hospital patients is a particularly exciting development. One German study suggests that antimicrobial essential oils such as tea tree and eucalyptus oil represent a “promising force” to fight hospital-acquired infections.

One issue with the advances in the speciality of clinical aromatherapy is the need for further training for aromatherapists. “There is a handful of people like me training aromatherapists how to use aromatherapy in medical settings around the world,” says Harris, who is based in France.

“Aromatherapists need to learn about other routes of absorption for aromatherapy such as oral ingestion and rectal applications,” says Harris. Australia is the only country to date which has developed a state-accredited training programme in what’s called aromatic medicine.

The key question in all of this is whether the medical establishment – and the pharmaceutical industry – is willing to take on clinical aromatherapy because without the blessing of their doctors, many people will still be cautious about the use of aromatherapy in clinical settings.

“With the medical profession, there is always a level of resistance but as more and more evidence is published about the benefits of aromatherapy, that resistance is weakening,” says Harris.

“However, the challenges for aromatherapists now is that due to the economic situation, their services are under direct threat. Aromatherapists need to demonstrate that they have a place in the medical care of patients,” she stresses.

Botanica 2012 will be held in Trinity

College Dublin, September 7th-9th. Themes to be discussed include essential oil research papers in clinical settings, applied clinical aromatherapy, western herbalism, Irish herbal lore and emerging herbal therapeutics. Irish herbalists contributing to the conference include Anne Varley, Vivienne Campbell and

Judith Hoad. See

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