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Essential Oils in Palliative Care

When we first decided to create a course on Aromatherapy, someone asked me “Why? Isn’t the Institute about educating about palliative care? Is Aromatherapy really palliative care?”

To me, the answer was clear. More and more health care providers, and their patients, are recognizing the value aromatherapy, as well as other complementary therapies as an adjunct to allopathic medicine to treat serious medical conditions. Aromatherapy and the array of benefits it provides to patients, especially those in palliative care, is being recognized and is rapidly growing in use.

The Power of Integrative Care

Today, about a third of the American public uses some form of complementary or alternative medicine routinely, and both health professionals and the general public are recognizing that care that integrates both traditional allopathic medicine and complementary or alternative medicine offers a more holistic approach to care. Integrative medicine, which offers a holistic view of illness, wellness, and treatment alternatives, is particularly important in the field of palliative care, which focuses on the holistic care of the patient and their family.

Clinically Valuable, Easy to Integrate

A Sept. 30, 2015 report on the National Cancer Institute’s web site, Aromatherapy and Essential Oils–for health professionals (PDQ®), lends support to the role Aromatherapy can play in care provision: “A large body of literature has been published on the effects of odors on the human brain and emotions. Some studies have tested the effects of essential oils on mood, alertness, and mental stress.” As important as Aromatherapy’s impact on well-being is, equally important is the ease with which an Aromatherapy program can be implemented. With proper training, Aromatherapy can become part of the toolkit of any professional or can be delivered by specially trained and supervised volunteers. In the face of today’s palliative care workforce challenges, Aromatherapy offers an increasingly validated approach to easing symptoms and increasing well-being that can be part of what any program or caring professional offers.

From Vision to Expert Implementation

At the Institute, we worked with an expert Aromatherapist to create an online, self-paced course, Aromatherapy in Palliative Care, which provides information on the use of this ancient, yet well documented practice. The appropriate and skillful use of Aromatherapy in easing health issues such as nausea, fatigue, anxiety and depression is a major focus of the course. Beginning with historical and underlying principles and progressing to information about commonly used and available oils, the course will provide a variety of resources and instructions on the safe and effective use of essential oils, discussion on application methods, and selection of essential oils used for a variety of symptoms and concerns for patients. Easily accessible for palliative care and hospice professionals of all disciplines as well as for volunteers, this four hour course is highly interactive and engaging.

When I once again consider the question I was asked about Aromatherapy and palliative care, I realize that my answer really fell short. Aromatherapy is one more excellent example of the kind of holistic care that is at the heart of palliative care. It is not a question of who should be trained in Aromatherapy. It is a question of who doesn’t need to add this to their repertoire of caring. As anyone who takes the course will learn, it is a matter of intent and knowing how oils are used. From there, Aromatherapy is a caring practice that need not take much time, but one with significant positive impact. Isn’t that what we all say we want in today’s busy health care world?

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