A Therapist’s Guide to Aromatherapy
By Danielle Daniel, LCSW, Doctor of Psychology student
Whether you are a psychotherapist, counselor, psychologist, or in any other line of work where you have an office setting to positively influence your clients, diffusing essential oils can be the solution you are looking for.
As I started diffusing different essential oils in my office as a psychotherapist as well as in my own home, I noticed the oils influencing different emotions and moods which led me to research the effects aromatic molecules have on the brain.
Many of us like an “air freshener” anyway in our homes or offices, so why not diffuse something that is non-toxic and beneficial to emotions and cleansing the air, all the while smelling really good?
I have my masters degree in social work from San Diego State University and am a licensed clinical social worker. I am also in a doctorate program for clinical psychology and having access to research has been an exciting thing when it comes to studying the brain and aromatherapy, a practice I have termed as “Psychoaromacology”.
I became curious on how these aromatic compounds could really affect emotional wellness so I started bringing an aromatic diffuser to my office and played around with different essential oils, observing how they could influence emotions.
I was amazed at how well they worked during a therapy session not only on my clients but on myself too, making my own work day more pleasant.
What exactly are essential oils?
Essential oils are volatile aromatic compounds, meaning they are light in molecular weight therefore are able to float easily throughout the air and enter neural olfactory pathways as we inhale them.
Once they enter that pathway, their different compounds bind to olfactory bulbs and travel to the limbic structure of the brain communicating the release of different feelings and emotions.
Emotions are nothing more than chemical pathways in the brain being triggered by sight, sound, thought, taste and of course scent. All these different sensory inputs, cause a neuronal firing in our brain, which in turn influence our emotions.
Because aromatic oils are potent molecules, they are more powerful at influencing our emotions. An example of this is when you peel open the skin of an orange, you are actually releasing the aromatic sacs that sit on the rind of that orange and you get the strong influence in that moment of the essential oils in your nasal passageways, which in turn influences the emotions of feeling happy, or calm feelings of stress.
Emotions play a big role in our lives, so why not have something from nature that can positively influence us?
Many oils support uplifting our mood and thoughts just from inhaling the pleasant aroma of nature. Citruses I have found in research and experience, are by far the most influential to uplift mood.
Orange essential oil is one of my favorites to diffuse as I work with adolescents. You could see the marked difference when they began to inhale the pleasing scent of a citrus that seem to trigger an emotional change, making the therapy session more successful.
Other oils for uplifting mood are: frankincense, rosemary, bergamot, lavender and clary sage.
Worry and Anxiety
To balance emotions of anxiousness or worry, citruses again can be very helpful at interacting at the stress response level in the body.
Lavender is another oil studied extensively for calming feelings of worry or anxiousness. A favorite blend of mine to diffuse for this type of emotion, is my Mind Zen Blend which is equal drops in a diffuser of orange, lavender, sandalwood, and clary sage essential oils.
This blend seems to calm a racing mind in those moments of worry and create a calmness and balance in your thoughts and emotions.
All of us need a little help with focus whether it be a child in school or sitting at a computer working all day.
I have helped many teachers diffuse different oils in their classrooms to encourage focus as well as used them when doing big research papers for my own studies. The top oils that can support a sense of focus are chamomile, ylang ylang, sandalwood, peppermint and citruses.
Hands down my favorite blend to use is a roll-on oil focus blend of sandalwood, ylang ylang, lime, and several other oils. A great diffuser blend I like to use is equal drops of sandalwood, lime, and ylang ylang for the office.
Similar to uplifting mood, citruses can be very helpful in dealing with feelings of anger.
With adolescents, they definitely can be moody with all the changes going on in their development during these years. I’ll never forget this one 17 year old high school football player I worked with who walked in my office very angry about an incident that had occurred during his Spanish class that day. He was so angry and cursing about it as he walked into my office.
Then I saw an amazing shift happen in him as he took his first big inhale of the aroma I had diffusing. He sat down, and he looks at me and says “it smells really nice in here”.
His entire mood shifted as the influence of nature took hold in his mind and we were able to have a very calm conversation about his emotions of anger and processing them healthily.
My favorite scents for calming emotions of anger are bergamot, cedarwood, orange and lavender essential oils.
There are many more ways essential oils can influence our emotions, the great thing is that oils are safe and fun!
Play around with what aromas work well in your environment and for your clients and you will be doing something positive for them and yourself as you diffuse the aromas throughout the day!