As I have said when talking about a number of other topics, there isn’t a one size fits all solution here. Indeed, as in other fields, there are people whom it would not be right for me to treat because of safety issues. That said, I have used aromatherapy and massage with a large number of clients. Over half of these were in the context of an in-patient adolescent therapeutic community and some of them I would not have been happy treating outside of this context.
Before going on to some of the specific oils I would use and the reasons for choosing them, I will first look at what I do to ensure safety.
- If I am at all worried about any of the safety aspects of the case I will only see them with permission of their GP or the consultant overseeing their care.
- I will with virtually all oils except lavender cut the number of drops I use by half or more. Lavender I usually do but not always.
- I pay careful attention to how much pressure I use during the massage because osteoporosis due to calcium loss from the bones is common in the anorexic portion this client group.
- There are some clients I see whom I would not be happy about seeing without having closer links with their care network were it not for my extensive experience with this client group when I worked as a mental health nurse.
As always, I choose oils based on a holistic picture of the client. There is not an oil for anorexia or one for bulimia. There are oils that can stimulate appetite but any effect of this is likely to be negligible with anorexic clients as they feel hunger but deny sating it. It is more important to choose oils that treat the underlying problems that have led to the anorexia.
These can include depression, relationship problems, often with parents but by no means always. Often anorexic clients are perfectionists who feel things are not worth doing if not done perfectly. This can be based around a mistaken belief that it is only through being perfect in their academic work that they can be good enough for their parents. Other issues can include feeling smothered psychologically by parents.
In talking with clients, it is really important to keep clear in the therapist’s mind the concept of differing realities. The client’s lived experience can be very different from relatives’ perceptions which can be different again from what a hypothetical neutral observer might report. This client group often feel a strong need to be in control so oils that can modify this may be important.
Some of the oils I have used are, Caraway which can promote emotional stability in one who has grown up in an unstable environment, Bergamot is always in my box of tricks for when depression is present.Clary Sage is also good for depression and nervous anxiety.Clove oil is good for those who have a lot of self doubt. Geranium is the oil I would choose for the client who is perfectionist about everything. For those who overeat, Grapefruit can be particularly helpful, promoting lightness and allaying the need to be full.
Hyssop is an oil I would choose for the client who has difficulty maintaining their personal boundaries. It is useful for these clients whether or not the source of their difficulty is abuse of some sort.Jasmine and Rose are oils I would be looking at particularly if the person has been abused.
Juniper is another oil for the perfectionist, particularly when the fear of failure is strong.
Yarrow is another oil I would think of where there is obvious emotional wounding, particularly in angry individuals.
Peppermint is very good for aiding acceptance of situations and tolerance.
I notice, re-reading my notes on different oils that in fact there are very few oils that I would not use with this client group as nearly all if not all of the oils I use will help one or more of the the problems associated with eating disorders.
This brings me back to the point that I work with people not illnesses. With the client I choose oils that address the imbalances in their life and body. These are not going to be the same for each client with anorexia or any other disorder for that matter.