Titles, and Credentials, and Consumer Confusion…Oh My!

wizard of oz

A wonderful blog post was written in September about something that has been on the mind of many Aromatherapists regarding the titles that we use. This article was written from a personal standpoint as the author was essentially using the post to inform her clients and others as to her own training.  However the post went viral and the author went on to receive many emails from individuals who wrote to criticize elements of the post and to share their own personal viewpoints.  Others, like me responded to address factual errors regarding educational guidelines and the use of one credential in particular. Much to my disappointment, the post was subsequently removed.

I was happy to see this post as I had written one on the very same subject just two weeks earlier. In my post, I addressed the title of “Clinical Aromatherapist.” Many more people are using this term, but there are two way of looking at this title.  One is that it is a representation of the level of education that an individual possesses.  The other is the environment in which a practitioner works. This begs the question, “should we seek more clarity and ask schools granting the title to provide more clarity to the students for its use?”  For example, a graduate may be “Clinically-trained,” but only after experience in working in a clinical environment should they call themselves a “Clinical “Aromatherapist?”  This brings to mind Rhiannon Lewis’s AIA presentation about “Working at the Coal Face” to mind. It’s theory vs. practice. Are we working in the environment that we are trained to work in or are we teaching, writing articles or acting as consultants?  I never posted my blog article. I shared it with a colleague who asked the question “what if I am clinically-trained, not working in a clinical environment and training nurses to use Aromatherapy in a clinical environment?”  Good question.

While there is no regulatory body that oversees the practice or Aromatherapists, there are general guidelines that we learn about in school with which we must adhere to; the Medical Practices Act and massage laws within each state in the U.S., as well observing the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the industry associations we belong to. There are similar considerations in other countries as well. However due to the lack of government regulation, aromatherapy organizations have taken it upon themselves to set standards and guidelines for their members to support and follow in an effort to “self-regulate.” In the early days of the AIA I remember being a part a discussion in which there was a collective desire to review, evaluate and revise such standards and guidelines. The goal was to have the membership accept and support the educational guidelines and standards, and to promote the organization as a leader in the aromatic community. Our secret hope was that by providing these guidelines and a group of professionals working in support, if the U.S. government officials were ever to come knocking, the AIA and its practitioner members would certainly pass any scrutiny, be a model for other groups, and work in tandem with the government. I also recall discussions regarding how far the AIA could and was willing to go.  The AIA is not a “regulatory” body.

So how does this relate back to the topic of “titles” and “credentials” in Aromatherapy? For some time there appeared to be essentially two categories of Aromatherapists; hobbyists that possessed a basic level one (foundation) education and qualified Aromatherapist who possessed a certification (200 hour professional course).  The AIA, with a focus on “moving aromatherapy forward” into more integrative and clinical settings discussed the need for a higher level of learning to accommodate safe and responsible essential oil use in these settings, hence revising the guidelines for Levels 1 and 2, as well as creating the clinical Aromatherapy education guidelines. In doing so, there appears to be an increase in the number of “clinical” Aromatherapists, or is there?

In looking at the “recognized ” or “approved” standards of the aromatherapy education organizations in the U.S., there exists various of levels of education, however the content of that education and how it is evaluated varies between organizations.  For example, one organization considers level one to be a 30 hr course whereas another sets the standard at 100 hr. There is also some misinformation circulating with regard to how the AIAs education guidelines were established and what is contained in those guidelines (which is the subject of another article to come). So with the differences in the guidelines between organizations, not to mention that there are several schools out there that are not on the recognized or approved lists of either organization, there are several social media threads suggesting that possessing a certification is somehow no longer of value.

While there is no government regulatory body overseeing aromatherapy practitioners, I think practitioners can agree that possessing an education in safe and responsible use is of great importance. What seems to be at the heart of these recent discussions are the titles and credentials that practitioners are using to give an impression of their overall education level. One might think that would have been cleared up with the establishment of levels of education (Foundation, Professional, Clinical). In looking back to when I first started in Aromatherapy, if you went to school (200 hr) and earned a certification you became a Certified Aromatherapist (CA). Anything less and you could receive a “certificate of attendance.” If you elected to do so, you went on to take the ARC Exam to become a Registered Aromatherapist (RA). In addition, some schools had their own credential upon graduation, such as the Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner (CCAP) awarded to graduates of Jane Buckle’s program for healthcare providers. Other schools that applied and met the AIA would have guidelines for clinical level training offered their students the title of “Clinical Aromatherapist.” For me, my school said I could call myself a Clinical Aromatologist as I was trained in various methods of internal use, however it seems that term never really took off. Nowadays there are people calling themselves “Medical Aromatherapist” or a “Certified Clinical Master Aromatherapist” among others.  Some of the titles are created by the schools that offer training and others are created, as some may say, as a marketing ploy to impress upon potential clients that they possess a greater knowledge than perhaps another practitioner.  Regardless of where these terms have come from what they have effectively done is to create consumer confusion and animosity among peers in the aromatic community.

The explosion of this topic has been debated on social media for many months with a common question of who should be responsible for clearing up this mess? The schools?  The Aromatherapy organizations? One trade organization considered taking up this cause as well, but instead has put this back on practitioners to take up with the Aromatherapy organizations they belong to.

So what do you think? Should the aromatherapy organizations (in collaboration) create the titles we use, the qualifications for each, and trademark them for use in their respective countries? In an effort to have all Aromatherapists on the same page, should there be a larger, perhaps global, council that provides the gold standard for education guidelines, Code of Ethics, Standards of Practice, and guidelines for the use of titles and credentials to provide a unified front in Aromatherapy and protection for consumers?  I invite your comments below?

Lora Cantele is a Registered Clinical Aromatherapist through the Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC) and a Certified Swiss Reflex Therapy (SRT) practitioner and instructor through its creator, Shirley Price.  Her work as former president of Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) has helped the organization flourish to become a leading voice in advancing an ethical practice of aromatherapy for personal as well as clinical use.  During her tenure at the AIA (2006-2012) she successfully lead the development and implementation of AIA’s aromatherapy educational standards to take the level of aromatherapy education in the USA to new heights.  In 2009 and 2010, she brought her professional expertise to a pilot program aimed at providing a better quality of life to children with life-limiting illnesses including; hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.  As an aromatherapy educator, writer, and international speaker Ms. Cantele continues to unite and inspire her colleagues to speak out about the importance of this work within an integrative health and wellness program. She is the editor/publisher of the peer-reviewed International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy (IJPHA) and the co-author of The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness. Contact: lora.cantele@gmail.com Websites: www.ijpha.com and www.enhancedgifts.com

6 responses to “Titles, and Credentials, and Consumer Confusion…Oh My!

  1. I trust I don’t have to tell you how much I appreciate seeing this article!

    To get the dialogue started in response to your questions, I do believe we need a common language in the U.S. to reflect the breadth and depth of an individual aromatherapist’s education. I also think we need an agreed upon standard to frame the scope of individual aromatherapy programs. Ideally, both standards (credentials and qualifiers for programs empowered to provide them) should be vetted and supported by all of the major aromatherapy organizations in the U.S. Having a defensible title can do much to bolster a client’s confidence in selecting an aromatherapist. For aromatherapists who have invested heavily in deeper education, it’s also powerful to be able to call out that effort and investment in conjunction with their practice.

    A global aromatherapy council would absolutely also be welcome. In my mind, having standards for education, ethics, practice, and credentials doesn’t just protect consumers; it would also help to protect the industry and community, from individual aromatherapists to suppliers and aromatherapy schools. While such an organization would face many challenges, having such a “gold standard” would help to anchor safe use, empower practice, encourage education, not to mention limit the distraction associated with trying to help consumers (or even other aromatherapists) understand the confusion of the current state. One of the best things would be just having various stakeholders at the table to begin with–talking, exploring, entertaining what’s possible, contributing to a dialogue about desired/best/highest outcome, and working together! It’s understood, however, that both scenarios may require organizations *and* individuals to rethink their current positions in order to engage meaningfully, transparently, and constructively on behalf of something bigger than themselves.

    I’m excited to hear what others have to say–would love to see the ideas outlined above brought into action with solid support from the community at large. Lots to wade through….

  2. Reblogged this on the untamed alchemist and commented:
    Insight into titles and credentials in aromatherapy from Lora Cantele, author of The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness and editor/publisher of the International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapists (IJPHA),

    If you aren’t already subscribed to the IJPHA, I encourage you to subscribe–it’s a wonderful resource with robust and inspired reading in every issue. Find them at http://www.IJPHA.com.

    Kristina, the Untamed Alchemist

  3. With my 770+ hours training with a final exam studying Cert. Aromascience (NZQA) I’ve earned the title Clinical Aromatologist (New Zealand). To me it represents that I offer services as a complimentary health practitioner only (I don’t do beauty treatments).

    I’m very proud of my quals and the work I do and take it very, very seriously.

    Thank you for the opportunity to explain my title.

  4. I enjoyed your post. I’ve started taking the free webinars periodically offered the Aromahead Institute of Aromatherapy. Before that I had less than a basic understanding of essential oils. Now, I know just enough to make me want to know more. The titles and credentials of aromatherapists was talked about a little bit. Anyhow, through the webinars, I’ve definitely come to understand the value in getting your information from someone who has been properly educated and certified. I recently started a healthy living blog. I have a bachelors in nutrition and several years experience in physical training. I’m working on my personal trainer certification at the moment. I have no experience whatsoever in aromatherapy and holistic health. I would love it if you would do a guest post. I’m just looking for a post introducing people to aromatherapy and holistic health. If you have a blog post on just the introductory basics, I would love to reblog it if that’s easier. And of course you would be welcome to link it to your blog.

  5. Worldwide we need stricter guidelines for all complementary therapies. Aromatherapy and the various titles of the therapists does need looking at. Personally for clinical aromatherapy I like the definition that 1:you will have training in more essential oils (uk basic aromatherapy you study 50 something oils and clinical I studied a further 70!) and 2: you practise more then one modality, so able to offer more then just massage or oil, and finally 3: you work with the essential oils in many ways so not just chemistry but spiritually and emotionally giving a fully holistic approach.

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