The Job and What's Involved

Aromatherapists use essential oils (natural plant essences) to improve clients' physical and emotional well-being.

Aromatherapy is based on the principle that essential oils have therapeutic properties that can be used to improve health and prevent disease. It is used particularly for stress-related problems and a variety of chronic conditions.

At the first session with a client, the aromatherapist:

  • Takes a full medical history from the client - sometimes the aromatherapist seeks consent from the client's doctor or other healthcare professional before treatment can begin.
  • Asks the client about their lifestyle, diet, exercise regime, stress levels, allergies and any emotional issues.
  • Decides which aromatherapy oil, or blend of oils, is best suited to the individual's needs - there are around 400 aromatherapy oils, each with different therapeutic properties, although most aromatherapists use a range of around 50.
  • Mixes the oils - aromatherapy oils can be diluted in a carrier oil and massaged into the skin, added to a vaporiser and inhaled, used in a bath or a compress or added to base creams and lotions with instructions for self-administration.
  • In most cases, applies the oils by a full or partial body massage to the client, who will have undressed in private and lain on a couch, covered with towels.
  • Makes a note of the treatment and the blend of oils used
  • Gives the client aftercare instructions, eg after using some oils the skin should not be exposed to direct sunlight.
  • May also supply blended oils for the client to use at home.

Aromatherapists tend to work flexible hours, according to the number of clients and the times that clients are free to see them. They may offer evening and weekend appointments. Some aromatherapists work part time.

Aromatherapists may work in a range of environments, including:

Clinics in their own homes
Their own private clinics in other premises
Patients' homes
Complementary therapy clinics
Medical centres, hospitals and hospices
Residential care homes
Private physiotherapy and sports clinics
Health and fitness centres
Beauty salons

Work takes place in clean, quiet rooms.

Many aromatherapists wear a white coat, salon dress or tunic and trousers. The job involves bending, stretching and some physical effort.

Some aromatherapists work at more than one location, so a driving licence is useful.

Most aromatherapists are self-employed, so income varies according to the number of patients they treat and the amount they charge for each session. The average charge for an aromatherapy session is between £25 and £60. Sessions can last between one and two hours.

A newly-qualified self-employed aromatherapist may earn around £2,000 to £5,000 a year until the practice has been built up. Experienced aromatherapists may earn at least £15,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The number of aromatherapists in the UK has grown rapidly, and there are currently around 30,000. Most are self-employed, but a small number are employed in complementary therapy centres (including NHS centres) and beauty therapy salons.

As most aromatherapists are self-employed, advertised vacancies are unsusual.

Education and Training

There are many different organisations and awarding bodies offering aromatherapy qualifications. To be recognised within the aromatherapy profession, it is important to achieve a qualification that meets both the National Occupational Standards (NOS) and the Aromatherapy Consortium Core Curriculum.

Candidates should check with the course provider, or contact the Aromatherapy Consortium for advice.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There are three levels of course that include a qualification that meets the NOS and the Aromatherapy Consortium Core Curriculum:

Diploma courses - entry requirements vary. Some courses do not ask for specific qualifications, but applicants must be able to cope with the biology and chemistry included in the course. Other courses ask for GCSE's/S grades, or equivalent qualifications.

Foundation degree courses - entry to Thames Valley University's Foundation degree in Aromatherapy and Reflexology is with at least one A level/H grade, plus three GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English, maths and science. Entry to New College Durham's Foundation degree in Complementary Therapies requires at least three GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths, plus appropriate key skills level 2 qualifications, or equivalent.

Honours and ordinary degree courses - entry is usually with at least two A levels/H grades, sometimes including a science subject, plus GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), usually including English, maths and a science, or equivalent qualifications.

Most of the courses are available either full or part time. Exact entry requirements vary between courses, so candidates must check carefully.

Entrants to professional aromatherapy courses must be at least 18 years old and may have their backgrounds checked to make sure that they are suitable to work with children and vulnerable adults.

There are also some short, basic aromatherapy courses. They provide a good introduction to aromatherapy, but are not sufficient to practice professionally.

The courses that meet the NOS and the Aromatherapy Consortium Core Curriculum usually include:

Anatomy and physiology
Theory of aromatherapy
Applied aromatherapy
Therapeutic relationships
Legislation and code of ethics
Business studies
Understanding and using research in practice
Reflective practice

The aromatherapy profession is working towards voluntary self-regulation. Once registration is introduced in 2006, aromatherapists will have to do Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to maintain their registration.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An aromatherapist should:

  • Have excellent communication skills, particularly listening and speaking.
  • Have good physical massage skills.
  • Have empathy with patients and be sensitive to their problems.
  • Be able to inspire trust and confidence in patients.
  • Like science, particularly biology and chemistry
  • Know the properties and chemistry of a large number of essential oils.
  • Know when to refer a client to a doctor or other healthcare practitioner.
  • Be able to keep accurate records.
  • Have business skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Progression for self-employed aromatherapists usually means building the size of their business. To do this, they need to establish a good professional reputation and have the right business skills. Some combine practice with training student aromatherapists.

Some aromatherapists train in additional complementary therapies, like reflexology or stress management, which allows them to offer additional services to their clients.

It may be possible to work abroad, but it is important to check that UK qualifications will be recognised in the country where the practitioner intends to work.

Get Further Information

Aromatherapy Council

The International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA),
20a The Mall Ealing London W5 2PJ
Tel: 020 8567 2243

The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA),
82 Ashby Road, Hinckley, Leicestershire LE10 1SN
Tel: 01455 637987

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