Aromatherapy in Holistic Nursing

Aromatherapy! We have all heard of this. Some may even use it from time to time, but let’s take a brief look into the history of this practice and how nurses can and are using aromatherapy today.

Aromatherapy In Holistic Nursing

A Brief Historical Timeline of Aromatherapy

Please know this timeline only touches on a few key points regarding the medicinal purposes of essential oils. To learn more about its historical background, I recommend “The Art of Aromatherapy” by Robert B. Tisserand. 

The evolution of the use of essential oils and aromatics (later to be known as aromatherapy) began somewhere between 7000 – 4000 B.C.E. when Neolithic tribes discovered infusing plants with animal fat provided healing benefits…. and not to mention more flavorful foods. 

Along this timeline, Traditional Chinese Medicine dawned around 2500 BC and incorporated the use of aromatics as part of this holistic healing system. 

Next came Ayurvedic medicine in 2000 BC. This traditional Indian medicine is one of the oldest forms of medical practice that uses plants and their extracts for holistic treatment therapy. In fact, Ayurvedic medicine is still practiced today.

Even Hypocrites, (a.k.a. the father of medicine), studied and promoted scented plants and herbs for their healing qualities in 400 BC. 

A French chemist by the name of Rene Maurice Gattefosse coined the term “aromatherapy” in 1928 when he learned of the healing properties of lavender essential oil from the farmers who produced the lavender crops for his families perfume business. He later worked with doctors and various essential oils to treat infections.

Today, aromatherapy is Big Business and is sold in the form of lotions, soaps, candles, incense, and bath salts. Unfortunately, this means you must be extremely careful you are getting pure organic plant extracts and not ones with added chemicals or altered to produce mass quantities. I encourage you to do your research and consult with a certified aromatherapist or become one yourself. Let’s see how this is being incorporated in healthcare. 

How is Aromatherapy being used in Holistic Nursing?

Aromatherapy is being used in healthcare but is known as Clinical aromatherapy. It’s being integrated by holistic nurses and other healthcare professionals to help manage symptoms like pain, stress, insomnia, anxiety, depression, nausea, and well-being. 

Hospitals like Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offer Aromatherapy in conjunction with therapeutic massage and is provided by trained professionals like holistic nurses who can provide safe treatment in patients with complex medical histories. This is only one of few healthcare systems that offer aromatherapy, but that just means nurses have an opportunity to advocate for this therapeutic enhancement in their place of employment. 

With proper education, aromatherapy can be implemented nearly anywhere in healthcare. Imagine the benefits of helping a mother in labor, or someone receiving end-of-life care…. and how about their families as well. Perhaps you see a lot of staff feeling stressed and perhaps showing signs of burn-out. Can you see using aromatherapy in these situations?  

Where can I Learn such a Valuable Skill?

Aromatherapy is not typically taught in traditional nursing schools. Finding a program that takes an evidence-based approach and teaches safety, drug interactions along with patient education is non-negotiable. 

There are many programs that offer education in aromatherapy; however, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy is dedicated to building academic standards for the healthcare professional and have several academic schools that meet their education standards like the Institute of Integrative Aromatherapy .  These programs offer continuing education, and you can achieve an aromatherapy certificate to enhance your current career path or a gateway to a new path. 

Now that you have a bit of the history and benefits supporting aromatherapy along with how and where it can be used in health care, where do you see it’s potential in your current place of employment?

Lisa is an adult wellness nurse in a family practice by day and a freelance health content writer by night….and Saturday morning. She is passionate about her career because she gets to do what makes her happy, help others and write.
Lisa is still actively involved with her INCA alumni and meets monthly with her cohorts and pursuing her board certification in Nurse Coaching.

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