Why I Went Back to School for Clinical Aromatherapy

Being a clinical social worker, I saw a need for holistic care for my clients and patients. I wanted to offer aromatherapy as one of the tools they could choose from.

After working in the field of clinical social work, I had seen both the strengths and the opportunities for growth within our medical, mental health, and behavioral health care systems. While many individual providers strive to provide excellent care for their patients and clients, service delivery is confined within a system that is driven by finances.

I have always been passionate about providing care that is geared towards prevention, stabilization, and revitalization. This passion stems from many years of being frustrated with the gaps in care while trying to help patients and clients navigate the system. I’ve also pondered how service providers can empower clients to participate in their own self-care with non-pharmacological interventions.

This passion led me to investigate the integrative therapies that I was introduced to as a child: essential oils, herbs, and nutritional intervention. I wanted to know if, and how, these interventions were being utilized within various areas of the health care system. I was curious about their integration in the field of social work. Particularly in hospice, oncology, home care, chemical health, and mental health.

During this exploration, I became fascinated with aromatherapy. Having worked primarily in behavioral and mental health for the majority of my career, I was particularly interested in its effect on stress and emotions. I was impressed by the affordability, versatility, and accessibility of this complementary health care modality.

In my career, I’d learned from other medical professionals on my teams that it is important that patients have all medications, supplements, vitamins, and any other natural products be reconciled. This is for proper assessment of potential contraindications as well as ongoing medication management.

Just like vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other supplements, essential oils can be purchased over-the-counter. Anyone can buy them from the internet, grocery stores, or home parties. I started to have questions about my patients using essential oils without any direction. How were essential oils benefiting, or even interfering, with their medical and mental health conditions? Was it possible that the essential oils could be interfering with their medications?

As these questions and concerns arose within me, I knew I needed to investigate further. So, I started a new quest for learning, specifically about the use of safe and effective aromatherapy. I was not even aware that there was formal education out there for clinical aromatherapy.

Around this same time, I had started working as a medical social worker for a local hospital based home care agency. The hospital system was already utilizing aromatherapy with its patients, primarily in hospice and the family birth center. This approach to using essential oils was new to me. It was based in evidence-based practice, and there were policies and procedures in place. These policies and procedures had been developed by an integrative team that was spearheaded by a nurse who had extensive training in aromatherapy. She had also consulted with a local clinical aromatherapist. This experience led me to seek further education and guidance on how I could implement this with our home care team.

I started to look for additional training around the use of aromatherapy in health care and I found a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist named Jodi Baglien. At the time, she was teaching a two day Aromatherapy Foundations course at a local community college. I attended the class and was overwhelmed with the amount of information regarding aromatic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, therapeutic actions, methods of application, profiles, safety, and best practices. I grew up around essential oils, and I’d never realized how much there was to know! A short time after, she offered me a position to work for her in her studio, which I gladly accepted!

At this point, I was faced with two paths for my level of involvement with aromatherapy. I could learn just enough to be able to use essential oils safely, and confidently, in my own personal life. Or, I could go back to school for a formal education so that I could use essential oils safely with my clients.

As a social worker, it is my ethical duty to refer out to other professionals, and to not engage in work that is outside of my scope of practice. So, did I want to refer my clients out to the clinical aromatherapy professionals? Or, did I want to become a professional clinical aromatherapist? If I did the latter, I could work with clients individually. I could also bring education to other licensed professionals, so that they could learn how to integrate aromatherapy into their practice. After several months, and many conversations with my mentor, I made the decision that I wanted to go back to school for clinical aromatherapy.

If you know anything about social workers, you know that we love our research, resources, and connections. I thoroughly researched the different levels of certification, and every approved school that was listed on the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy and the Alliance of International Aromatherapists websites. I created a spreadsheet that took note of each school’s qualities that included: costs, time investment, method of learning, teaching styles, certification options, values, morals, ethics, rooted in evidence based practice, and the alignment with my professional trajectory. With the help of my mentor’s reflection, observations, wisdom, and feedback, I decided that I wanted to go back to school to complete enough hours to become a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist. I also decided to get my specialty certification in wellness coaching at the same time. The rest is history!

I encourage you to reflect on how you became interested in aromatherapy and using essential oils. What drew you to them? Do you want to only use them in your personal life? Or would you like to be able to integrate them on a professional level? Is this a tool that you can see yourself using to empower your clients in their own self-care and wellness? How in depth do you want to go in your learning?

If you would like help reflecting on any of these questions, please feel free to contact me for a complimentary consultation.


National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of Ethics. Retrieved 8/10/17 from: http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp