Aromatherapy and other therapies are often referred to as 'holistic' but unfortunately this word is quite often misused, very often simply as a synonym for 'alternative'. This is misleading, for it is not the form of therapy chosen that makes it 'holistic' but the attitude of the practitioner, whether he or she is an 'orthodox' G.P. or hospital doctor, a nurse, masseur, aromatherapist, counsellor or herbalist, or any other caring therapist. In Western culture, alternative medicine is any healing practice "that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine.

The word 'holistic' is derived from the Greek 'holos' which gives us both 'holy' and 'whole' in modern English (the 'w' got added much later), and also has connections with the Anglo-saxon word 'hae!', from which our modern 'healthy' and 'hale' (as in 'hale and hearty') are descended. This association of the idea of health with wholeness and holiness expresses well the concept of holism. In medicine it is taken to mean caring for the whole person, often expressed as body, mind and spirit. The whole lifestyle of the person is taken into consideration, including diet, exercise, relationships, relaxation and the interaction between the person and society. In its widest sense, holism implies a relationship between the therapist, the person seeking help and the wider environment.

To what extent can aromatherapy be described as a holistic therapy? Once again, this depends more upon the practitioner than the means of treatment chosen. It is possible to apply aromatherapy in a purely mechanistic and symptom-treating manner, but it is true to say that the majority of aromatherapists do look beyond the treatment of symptoms and seek to help the causes of disease. The very nature of essential oils themselves, and their ability to subtly affect us on many levels, physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual makes them a very appropriate medium for anybody who is seeking to treat the whole person. During every aromatherapy treatment, the therapist will be breathing in the oils which are being used to treat the client/patient, and will be subtly affected by them. This creates a very special kind of integration between helper and helped, and if we also remember the origin of the oils, in the various plants that the planet provides for our healing, we can see another link, between the two people involved in the healing process, and the earth itself.

Another aspect of the holistic approach is the willingness of any practitioner to refer a patient for help to somebody else if some other form of treatment would seem to be helpful, either in addition to or instead of what he or she can offer. In such instances, therapists may take a team approach and cooperate closely in the healing process. Aromatherapy lends itself ideally to such an approach, since it can be allied to many other kinds of treatment. Dr Jean Valnet has said 'Aromatherapy does not claim to be effective, by itself, for every ailment, nor for every patient, nor in every circumstance. It must often be used in conjunction with other medications.' If you bear this in mind, and always keep the health of the whole person as your aim, you can truly claim to be holistic therapists.

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