How to become an aromatherapist (with steps and skills)
Updated 16 August 2023
An aromatherapist uses essential oils and other substances to increase the well-being of their clients, whether physically or emotionally. Rather than treating symptoms or curing medical problems, aromatherapists help their clients manage and alleviate certain problems, such as stress. Although there's no official registration required to become an aromatherapist, there are educational and training courses available to those who wish to pursue this career. In this article, we talk about the work of an aromatherapist and how to become one.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
What is an aromatherapist?
Aromatherapists use infusions and natural oils to help their clients manage stress and other similar problems. They focus on providing therapy that enhances the client's physical, emotional and mental well-being. They have a sound working knowledge of the essential oils and other substances used in their profession, how to blend these and which to apply based on client needs. This is usually done by a partial or full body massage. The work of an aromatherapist can complement that of a medical professional, with patients turning to aromatherapy to help manage certain symptoms or medication side effects.
Aromatherapists often possess a qualification that is accredited by a professional association, or which follows the guidelines set up by the National Occupational Standards (NOS). They're also commonly members of a recognised professional association, to practise aromatherapy. Their work focuses on holistic therapy, which is based on the idea that treatment must take into account the physical, mental and spiritual needs of clients simultaneously.
How to become an aromatherapist
If you want to become an aromatherapist, there are two ways of doing it when it comes to your education: you can take a university course, or pursue a college diploma. Based on the route you choose, there may be different entry requirements in terms of GCSEs or A-levels. In addition to acquiring a relevant education in aromatherapy, you must become a member of a professional body to work as an aromatherapist. The educational and other requirements for becoming an aromatherapist are listed and explained below:
1. Complete a university degree or foundation degree
If you choose to pursue a career in aromatherapy with a university education, you can study for a Bachelor's Degree in Complementary Healthcare or Complementary Therapies, both of which include courses in aromatherapy. Additionally, you can choose to do a foundation degree, which is the academic equivalent of two-thirds of a bachelor's degree. Foundation degrees are designed to equip you with in-demand skills. Whichever course you choose, it must meet the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for aromatherapists.
To qualify for a foundation degree, you typically need at least one A-level. If you're going to take a full degree in complementary healthcare or complementary therapies, you usually need at least two or three A-levels.
2. Complete a college diploma
You can also become an aromatherapist by taking a college course, such as a Level 2 or Level 3 Diploma in Complementary Therapies. This is quicker than a university degree and usually takes about 9 months. College courses like these often include practical experience as part of the study programme. Just like a university degree or foundation degree, your course must meet the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for aromatherapists.
A Level 2 diploma typically requires you to have acquired two GCSEs at grade 3 to 9 (D or higher), if not more. For a Level 3 diploma, you often need to have four or five GCSEs of at least grade 4 (C or higher).
3. Gain membership with a professional body
If you want to practise as an aromatherapist, you must be a member of a professional body. One of the requisites for membership is having completed a course that meets the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for aromatherapists. The organisation for aromatherapists that is responsible to the UK Parliament is the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).
What skills do aromatherapists need to have?
Aromatherapists generally possess a mix of skills and competencies, both relating to their physical work and soft skills for dealing with clients. They have a certain amount of knowledge in chemistry and biology, especially anatomy and physiology. They know how to apply oils and provide both partial and full-body massages. Aromatherapists also know how to blend these oils to produce different effects, meaning that they know which oils are best suited for which needs. They also know how to take details of clients' histories, in terms of their medical conditions and diet, and understand the relevance of this information.
Their focus on holistic care practices means that aromatherapists also develop good soft skills. They know how to communicate with clients and listen to their needs and concerns. They can communicate what they intend to do, and give advice to clients relating to their care at home and any dietary changes that may be necessary. They also need to be physically fit, because some of their work is physical in nature. Aromatherapists also need to be able to determine if there's a more serious medical problem present and refer clients to a doctor if this is the case.
Related: How to become a massage therapist
Where do aromatherapists work?
Aromatherapists can be found in many different settings. Many work in holistic therapy clinics, in addition to spas and salons. This type of work tends to be primarily based on offering massages. Some aromatherapists are self-employed or run their own practice. They can work from home, go to clients' homes to offer their services or rent a room adjacent to a related facility. This can include spas, gyms, hair and nail salons or health food shops. Some aromatherapists also work in hospitals or other medical environments, where they can offer additional care to patients, including within the NHS.
However, not all aromatherapists work by providing massage therapy. Some of them work as consultants for various clients, such as spas and salons. Others may be employed in teaching, or be involved in the development of aromatherapy and beauty products. Many aromatherapists also offer additional services, such as other therapies or beauty treatments, to increase what they can provide to clients.
Aromatherapist career progression
There are different career paths you can pursue as an aromatherapist. Aside from specialising as an aromatherapist, you can opt to take additional training and courses in complementary services. These can include beauty, hygiene and other types of therapy, allowing you to offer a broader range of services to your clients. Aromatherapists can also offer reflexology services, in addition to other types of massage therapy. You may choose to specialise in helping certain kinds of patients, or with the alleviation of problems associated with certain conditions, which can also be helped by an additional competency like reflexology.
As an aromatherapist, you may decide that you want to become self-employed. Many aromatherapists are self-employed or open their own therapy centres or spas. These can be independent practices or be affiliated or linked to another facility, like a gym or hair and nail salon. Alternatively, you may prefer to visit clients in their homes. Due to their experience in the use and application of oils and infusions, aromatherapists can also work in product development, teaching or consulting.
Additional aromatherapy qualifications
There are additional qualifications that you can pursue as an aromatherapist. These can improve your understanding of the skills and tools of an aromatherapist, and serve as a reassurance to potential clients. The International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA), for instance, offers internationally recognised courses and qualifications. One of these is the IFA Professional Essential Oils Therapy (PEOT) Diploma course, which teaches the clinical uses of essential oils, therapeutic practices and how to produce your own line of products. To qualify for this diploma, you're required to have a previous qualification in a related field, such as aromatherapy, massage, counselling or similar.
There's also the IFA's Professional Aromatherapy Diploma Course, which teaches learners how to utilise advanced therapeutic practices within aromatherapy. This course doesn't require any prior qualifications or experience. It takes a combination of 250 hours of guided learning and 430 hours of self-study. The IFA syllabus abides by the National Occupational Standards (NOS) and the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). Completion of the Professional Aromatherapy Diploma Course makes you eligible to apply for full membership of the IFA.
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