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Research and complementary Medicine


This morning listening to the radio, I was reminded of the sometimes tenuous and sometimes difficult relationship my profession and others have with research. Any practitioner worth their salt does research even if it is just to keep good notes on their treatments and the feedback they get from their clients.

However, this isn’t enough to produce meaningful information to inform other practitioners or members of the public seeking treatment, often because they have become disillusioned with conventional medicine. Some of my clients come because they want to pamper themselves. Many come with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health problems for example I see a significant number of people who are being treated for anxiety and or depression. This is hardly a surprise when my advertising states that I have previously worked as a mental health nurse so generalising this to clients of other aromatherapists would not be valid.

I choose oils for these clients that I believe will help and that the literature suggests will help but much of this literature is not research based in the sense that trials have been carried out to prove the efficacy of all the oils for all of the conditions I use them for. Also, smell and our emotional reaction to it is very idiosyncratic. There are a number of oils that I put in the Marmite category. Clients either love them or hate them. Patchouli is one of these, but other oils which most of my clients love are hated by others. Lavender and Jasmine are two that come to mind.

It is interesting to note that WebMD which gives information about several complementary treatments is clear that for some conditions Bergamot oil does not work and for others there is insufficient evidence to say either way. In contrast, nearly all the reviewers of this treatment rate it as effective.

This however is not evidence that stands up to scrutiny. I strongly suspect that those who leave reviews on the site show a strong bias towards belief in complementary therapies. And yet I still use it for most of my clients with depression. Now there are a lot of things that can contribute to the effectiveness of a treatment. Ninety minutes one to one time with a practitioner who doesn’t have anything else to do but spend time with the client is not something most can get on a regular basis from the NHS. Massage can help with depression but it doesn’t come out very far ahead of one to one time without the massage even if the person who spends time with the client isn’t mental health trained.

As I said earlier, response to smells is very varied and is likely based on memories related to the various aromas. If a client has an unpleasant association with a particular oil I would be foolish to use it even if there was solid evidence backing its use for a particular condition. So, I use Bergamot oil because it is one nearly all my clients enjoy. I have yet to have a client report any side effects though I always caution against going out in the sun or using sun or tanning lamps etc for 12 hours after using it. (None of my clients have yet admitted to using sun lamps and given our weather this advice is often redundant but a client may decide to use this oil on their own while on holiday so it is important they have this information.

The risks of using some of these oils on the skin before tanning is well researched but as with many of these things it doesn’t affect everyone but I don’t like taking chances.

To finish, I will just say that for almost any essential oil I put into a search engine, I will see a dozen or more entries claiming it works for this or that before finding anything that gives an evidence based view. Internet searches are good for finding out information but a quick search without following up references does not count as checking research!

If you want to do your own research on whether massage and aromatherapy works for you,

email  or phone to book an appointment.

dave@cambridgearomatherapy.com or 07939273569

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