The ancient practice of aromatherapy is finding its way into modern medicine as a way to relieve stress, facilitate sleep and even reduce pain in patients.
Eighteen staff members, mostly nurses, at Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital are certified as clinical aromatherapy practitioners and offer the complementary therapy at no cost to the patient.
The oils used in aromatherapy are distilled from lavender, rosemary, clary sage, cypress needle and other plants known to have therapeutic properties when inhaled and absorbed into the skin using a light massage. Essential oils are 75 to 100 times more potent than their natural plants, and generally use a milder carrier oil, like almond oil, to overcome the effects of their concentration levels.
Hospital staff say the therapy has been especially effective with trauma and oncology patients, those suffering from substance abuse withdrawal and patients with high-risk pregnancies. For the latter, sleeping in a hospital setting is particularly difficult.
“Most are suffering from anxiety, insomnia or situational depression,” says Susan Shields, MBA, RN, NE-BC, director of the cancer program at Harris Methodist and a certified clinical aromatherapy consultant.
When Shields enters a patient’s room, she asks those interested in the therapy about their symptoms. She then gives patients four or five different essential oils from the 33 used at the hospital and asks the patient to choose the oils that are most appealing. Shields makes a mixture of those oils and conducts a patch test on his or her skin to make sure it isn’t sensitive to the oils.
Shields then applies the mixture on the patient’s feet and hands using the “M” technique. The light massage was invented by Jane Buckle, RN, PhD, a pioneer in aromatherapy who helped bring essential oils into the clinical setting.
“It’s a very light touch, on a scale of one to ten it’s a three,” Shields says. If a family member is in the room with the patient, Shields will teach the technique to that person as well.
“The patient is usually asleep within 30 or 45 minutes,” Shields says.
Kim Iorizzo, a high-risk mother who spent more than a month at Harris Methodist this summer, says the aromatherapy was very beneficial. “Yesterday was the first time I’ve been able to take a nap longer than like 10 minutes,” Iorizzo says.
Trauma patient Stephanie Dezem, who was hit by a drunk driver this summer in an automobile accident that cracked her pelvis and four ribs, also says she received benefits from aromatherapy at Harris.
“It eases the pain, but really relaxes you more so you think less about the pain,” she says.
Still in its infancy in hospital settings in the United States, the practice of using essential oils is starting to gain strength through clinical studies, according to Buckle, director of RJ Buckle Associates in the United Kingdom.
“I think the use of clinical aromatherapy will grow hugely in the next few years as more studies are published about the use of essential oils by nurses in hospitals,” she says.
Studies already have found that inhaled Mentha piperita reduces the need for Zofran in chemo-induced nausea, she said. Also, the M technique, with or without essential oils such as frankincense or lavender, can be effective in reducing terminal agitation at the end of life, Buckle says.
Essential oil therapy also can work on medical personnel. One recent study done at Harris Methodist showed that more than 57% of nurses working in the intensive care unit at the hospital reported a decrease in perceived stress levels after using the essential oils from lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and clary sage (Salvia Sclarea). Both oils have been shown to calm stress and anxiety in past research.
The study was a requirement for the certified course on aromatherapy taught at the hospital, says Erin Pemberton, BSN, RN, CPAN, LMT, CCAP, an ICU nurse at Harris who recently took the course.
Her study, which was published in the March/April 2008 issue of Holistic Nursing Practice, measured the stress level of nurses working in the intensive care unit of the hospital.
“We suffer from a lot of stress,” Pemberton says. “I wanted to see what combination of essential oils might help.”
Pemberton says she plans to continue her study on nurses. A trauma surgeon at Harris is currently studying the affects of aromatherapy on pain, as well.
The certified aromatherapy course began in 2004 and has graduated 50 health care professionals, including nurses, physicians, physical therapists and pharmacists, Shields says. The course is taught by four certified instructors and takes 250 hours.
Harris Methodist also has a Healing Arts Center where patients, staff or the general public can receive various forms of massage, reflexology and clinical aromatherapy. Shields credits the hospital administration for approving the use of the aromatherapy course and the free service for patients.
“We’ve had extraordinary administrative support that sees the value of aromatherapy as a complementary therapy—not used instead of medical therapy,” Shields says. “Not many other hospitals are able to work it into their therapies.”
Aromatherapy practitioners warn that while essential oils can be beneficial, they can also be damaging.
“In Germany you need a prescription to buy essential oils,” Shields says. “They have side effects and can be abused. You want to know exactly what you’re doing with it.”
Shields recommends purchasing essential oils only at places that can provide a gaschromatograph analysis of the oils, like www.NaturesGift.com, based in Madison, Tenn.
“That tells us exactly the chemical composition of that batch of oils,” she says.
Really would like to incorporate the use of aromatherapy at our hospital but am unsure about the proper channels to follow to do so. Is there anyone that could provide with some direction or a contact?
I am sorry I don’t have an answer because I am looking for the same information. Would love to see any information you receive.
I am a doterra wellness advocate and would love to help you…or at the least, get you pointed in the right direction. How can I help? My email is [email protected]. Let me know….I look forward to hearing from you.
Dear Jorge Cruz,
It’s important for you to work with administration to develop a policy for using aromatherapy in a hospital setting. If you can find one advocate, say the DON, who will carry the cause with you to admin, it helps. Provide research showing that AT is clinically efficacious and check with your state Board of Nursing, OT, PT, and whoever will be using the AT to be sure it falls under the practice act of those professionals.
Most states allow AT to be within nursing care but the Therapeutics Committee generally determine which oils will be allowed (much like they do with which soaps and lotions are selected). The MSDS sheets should be on file. Best wishes!
Is there a policy you would be willing to share from your facility to help us get headed in the right direction.
I think it’s cool that aromatherapy can be used to relieve stress at work. I love how simple this treatment is.
Aerosolization is also not the safest form of administration. This is an ongoing discussion especially in school and environments such as hospitals. It is safer to use personal inhaler devices. We have no idea who has allergies.
Where I work at the nurse practitioner had a 3 day class on aromatherapy and now is giving staff a five minute talk on aromatherapy on how to apply it to our patient’s. Talking with RN’s, LPN’s, caregivers and Recreation therapists and expecting all to apply, massage, give inhale all these aromatherapy to our patients without any real training and no other information. Don’t staff have to be certified to apply these essential oils. No contraindication or side effects were given. Staff is not confortable with this. How does this affect our nursing license since we are not trained or certified. Not comfortable and will not give since not certified.
Essential oils are so powerful! Essential oils can help you live a healthier life! Thanks for the useful article!
Please, Please do not use these oils in hospitals!!!! I am allergic to them and have asthma. You are creating an environment where people who are allergic to these oil to be put in a life and death situation. This is crazyt!!!!!! Do it at home, but please NOT in the hospitals, in the ER, surgical departments and hallways. Please hear our crazy for help, some cannot breath in this stuff!!!!!! Hospitals don’t open yourself up to legal issues because some like the
smell. Many get sick inhaling this stuff. Danger, Danger, please hear, protect us who are allergy to this.
We have incorporated them and my dental practice as well as my grandmother Senier Center in New York… Urban Zen goes to each patient’s room and goes over exactly what you’re feeling for the day and then chooses which oil she puts on the cotton around to give to the client… We also offer workshops in the dental practice every Sunday for the public to enjoy the adventures of oiling 101. If you need any information feel free to contact me… #HolisticHygienist -Jeanine ps They also use them at my local hospital…
I like the blog on aromatherapy. It is a great health message. thank you for sharing this blog.