Health & Wellness

Aromatherapy and occupational therapy

One of the greatest things about aromatherapy is that it can beautifully complement other types of conventional or alternative therapies for various health conditions either by enhancing their benefits or by bringing some additional ones to the table. Check out these articles for more on this subject:

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Essential oils for surgery recovery: all the ways in which aromatherapy can aid
Aromatherapy with lavender essential oil might be effective against cesarean postoperative pain, study shows
Aromatherapy, a great tool for midwives

Occupational therapy is meant to assist people – from children with disabilities to adults recovering from injury and elderly people experiencing cognitive challenges – to include or re-include in their life (after an event or illness that affected their lifestyle) those activities that give them meaning and purpose and make them feel a part of the community. So how can aromatherapy fit in?

One study, published in 1992, investigated the use of aromatherapy as a therapeutic activity, but also the way it was utilized by occupational therapists. Here are some of the most interesting findings of the study on the general topic of the potential uses of aromatherapy:

  • Aromatherapy is being used in various settings and by a variety of health and social services professionals – including in the private sector, hospital and social services.
  • Aromatherapy can be used for all age groups.
  • “A qualified aromatherapist may use aromatherapy to achieve any of the following therapeutic benefits:

– To facilitate relaxation and reduce stress
– To invigorate and promote activity and alertness
– To stimulate sensory awareness
– To facilitate and encourage interaction and communication
– To treat medical problems using natural substances
– To provide natural pain relief.”

  • Scientific observations made in the 1990s within NHS settings showed that the subjects recorded that aromatherapy had benefits such as: for relaxation, as antidepressant, as sedative, helping to alleviate muscle aches and pains, encouraging people to open up and talk, building trust, strengthening the immune system and for skin health care.
  • At the Oxford Nursing Development Unit some patients have been offered aromatherapy massages instead of analgesic or sedatives, such as temazepam, to which essential oils such as lavender and marjoram seemed to be similar in effectiveness.

Regarding the use of aromatherapy within occupational therapy, the author writes that:

  • There has been a call for occupational therapists to go back to their holistic foundation (instead of focusing on the medical model), in which all aspects of the individual are considered and the individual is not “compartmentalized into physical, mental, spiritual and emotional capacities”. This comes in the context in which more and more people no longer see health as a lack of disease, but rather as “wellbeing” and in which, according to a study quoted by the author, eight out of ten people say that they would use alternative practices to treat their ailments.
  • Aromatherapy and massage are being used by occupational therapists as part of anxiety management or sensory stimulation or to promote physical function, such as to restore mobility.
  • Aromatherapy can also be used for relaxation purposes or, on the contrary, for invigoration, when the therapist intends to encourage alertness and promote activity.
  • An occupational therapist may also use aromatherapy to promote concentration in elderly people or to stimulate memory. The smell of lavender or lemon, for instance, were shown to help people recall specific memories.
  • Essential oils have also been used to promote rapid healing and to promote restful sleep.
  • In people with severe learning difficulties, aromatherapy can help them become more aware of themselves and their environments through the use of the sense of touch and smell.
  • The author goes on to describe some case histories, as investigated by other scientist, as illustrations of the ways in which aromatherapy can be used within occupational therapy. Aromatherapy has been used in HIV positive patients to help them relax and relieve anxiety and within hospices to help patients sleep better and learn to relax.

The case of the retired carpenter

An interesting case is that of a 69-year-old retired carpenter who was forced to give up its work due to mental illness. He was experiencing a decline in the level of energy due to pain, depression, frustration, feelings of anxiety, episodes of hyperventilation, sleep problems, feelings of helplessness and frustration, low back pain and pain in head, neck and shoulders causing a limited rage of movement. “The therapeutic techniques used by the  occupational  therapist”, writes the author, “included  aromatherapy  massage  and therapeutic baths using  lavender  and  marjoram  in  conjunction  with  more  traditional relaxation techniques. In addition, Henry received counselling which helped him to explore   his   feelings   of   loss, accept his limitations and discuss a healthy balance of activity and relaxation. Various essential oils were used over a 6-month period as blends for massage.  Rosemary  and  lavender obtained optimum  pain  relief  in this  case  and other  oils  were used  to  add to the therapeutic effects of the  above, including benzoin, cardamon, juniper,  bergamot,  neroli,  tea  tree  and pine during different massages. The last three were chosen during periods of sinus trouble and chest infection to which Henry was also vulnerable. After 6 months various changes had occurred:

– 50% reduction in medication;
– Increased range of movement in his neck, head and shoulders;
– No sleep problems;
– Reduction in anxiety and sadness;
– Widely applied relaxation techniques;
– Decrease in back pain;
– Increase in assertiveness, resulting in obtaining by requests an appointment for surgery;
– Increase in overall levels of satisfying activity: during the spring Henry dug and stocked a pond to his immense satisfaction.”

 So if you find yourself in the situation where you need the help of an occupational therapist, ask him/her about the possibility of pairing it up with aromatherapy. It can completely transform your experience.

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