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Meet an Aromatherapist: An Interview with Rhiannon Lewis

*Note: This interview was first published in the April issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

I was first introduced to Rhiannon Lewis through the Aromatherapy Certification Program's Masters Series at Aromahead Institute. One of the educational webinars available to me as a student featured Andrea's interview with Rhiannon about French medical aromatherapy. I later came to recognize Rhiannon as the creator of the Botanica aromatherapy conferences and the editor of the International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy. She's a lovely person and a gifted aromatherapist and educator. I'm thrilled to be able to share this interview with you today!

ABOUT RHIANNON

Rhiannon Lewis is the director of Essential Oil Resource Consultants. She is an experienced aromatherapist, author, editor and gifted educator. Her extensive experience in the clinical uses of essential oils stems from undertaking training in the UK, France and the USA.

Together with Gabriel Mojay, Rhiannon is editor of the International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy. Through publication of evidence-based articles and research studies, she inspires practitioners to use essential oils and related products across a range of healthcare settings. Rhiannon is also the host and organizer of the Botanica series of conferences that run biennially. 


THE INTERVIEW

Hi Rhiannon! Thank you for joining us today. For those readers who do not know you yet, could you tell us a bit about who you are, where you come from, and what you do in the aromatherapy world?

Hi Erin, thanks for inviting me. I am often described as a Welsh African living in Provence (Afro-Gallo-Provencale)! I was born and brought up in the African bush and owe my passion for aromas and aromatic plants to my early childhood experiences in nature. I then spent a chunk of years in the UK where I trained as a nurse and where I began my professional aromatherapy journey. I have been living in France for the past 20 years, 17 of which have been in my current location, tucked away in the mountains of Provence surrounded by wild aromatics and artisan distillers. My work, essentially, is providing information, education and research in the field of essential oils, and especially, in the field of clinical aromatherapy. I achieve this in several ways: via classes and conferences, via my publication, the International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy, and via the Botanica series of international conferences of which I am host and organizer. I also practice aromatherapy in my community.

When did you start working with essential oils? What drew you to them?

I first started working with essential oils in the 1980’s. I was a nurse working in intensive care at the time and, inspired by the first book written by Shirley Price, I began using them for my own wellbeing and to help cope with stresses related to working in a high tech environment with very sick patients. The difference they made to my own life and sense of balance led me to consider what a difference they could make to patients. So, I left my secure full time job as a nurse and entered full time aromatherapy training with the intent to return to the clinical environment as a therapist instead of as a nurse, which I did. My training in aromatherapy was then further extended over the years that followed by attending educational programs in the USA (essential oil science) and France (the French medical style of using essential oils).

If one of our readers wanted to attend one of your classes or workshops, how could they go about doing so?

I teach at events in different countries around the world so the best way to find out where I am or what I am up to is via my website where there is a calendar of events. I also host classes here in Provence during the summer months – usually they relate to my Advanced Clinical Aromatherapy intensive study program that began 19 years ago and which has several levels and reflects my knowledge, training, and experience of both the traditional UK and French aromatic medicine approaches to using essential oils.

Tell us a bit about the Botanica conferences. When did you start organizing them? Will there be another one in the coming years?

For many years, I had dreamed of hosting an international conference: one that was independent of any membership organization, that was devoid of hype and egos and that simply brought together people who were passionate about herbal therapeutics and especially essential oils, to celebrate common ground, to provide a platform for networking and sharing experience, skills, products and education. In 2010, I found the ideal location and began organizing the first event which finally took place in September, 2012 at Trinity College Dublin.

Botanica2012 was a great success, and this has been built on successively every two years. The last event, Botanica2016 took place at the University of Sussex and welcomed 400 persons from almost 50 different countries. Botanica2018 is set to take place there again, August 31 - September 3, 2018.

What makes Botanica unique is the truly international nature of the event, the excellent speakers, the diverse trade show and the warmth of exchanges between practitioners, researchers, producers and suppliers alike.

Can you tell us a bit about your aromatherapy journal?

The International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy was launched in 2004 in response to the needs of therapists working in clinical environments or those who are working clinically with essential oils. The IJCA provides solid, evidence-based information to help these practitioners extend their knowledge and skills and make an even greater difference at the bedside. The journal is published twice a year and each issue carries a main theme. For example, the themes for 2016 related to digestive challenges, the themes for 2017 relate to symptom management and so on. In 2014, Gabriel Mojay came on board as my associate editor and we transitioned the journal to an e-format which has permitted us to further expand the content and presentation of the journal. For 2017 we are setting up an online networking platform for current IJCA subscribers, the International Clinical Aromatherapy Network (ICAN) as we want to foster closer exchanges between readers of the IJCA.

What are some of the trends you are seeing in the aromatherapy industry?

One trend that I have been watching with interest is the increase in online training programs leading to professional aromatherapy qualification. Several leading educators such as Andrea Butje of the Aromahead Institute in the USA have really taken online learning opportunities to a high level and students are well supported in their learning journey. Over the last couple of years there has been a veritable explosion of online classes – they are of varying depth and quality.

Another trend I have seen in the UK in clinical settings (partly through my influence in the cancer care field over the past 14 years) is that more and more aromaalone interventions (aroma stick inhalers, aroma patches, etc.) are being used. Previously, aromatherapy was almost always associated with a touch intervention, such as massage. This is changing, at least in the cancer and palliative care world, with very positive outcomes.

Another trend I have been watching is the rise in popularity of using essential oils by the general public with little or no awareness of the potency of essential oils. This trend is worrying and as aromatherapists, we need to be vigilant and ready to educate on the safe, appropriate use of essential oils and related products wherever we can.

One of the trends we are seeing here in America is misuse of essential oils when it comes to internal applications. You are a trained educator of aromatic medicine. Could you briefly address the issues we are seeing with the misuse of essential oils, especially when it comes to ingestion?

As you say, this trend began in the USA, but has also now spread to other countries and so we are seeing concerns raised in countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia, Japan and so on. In my mind, there are two things to consider.

Firstly, to use essential oils internally in a safe and effective manner, one normally has to have a very good indication/ clear diagnosis (usually an acute situation such as infection), a sound rationale for the specific oils chosen for this route of administration, use of the minimum effective dose, careful monitoring and treatment over the short term only. Unfortunately, the trend we are seeing (often erroneously cited as the “French style”) appears to be the complete reverse - essential oils are ingested in high doses over extended periods of time more as a lifestyle fad than for a specific indication, with little or no monitoring and it is often the case that the essential oils selected are ones that carry a certain level of risk such as toxicity or mucous membrane irritation. In my opinion, this trend will only change / be positively influenced with good education.

Secondly, this excessive consumption / use of essential oil presents a significant ecological impact. Every drop of essential oil represents a large biomass of plant material. When people use essential oils excessively and without a sound indication, not only are they putting
their health at risk, they are also having a negative impact on the environment; they are being wasteful (even qualified aromatherapists need reminding of this fact!). Once again, we need good education to reinforce the importance of the minimum effective dose, the awareness that every single concentrated drop of essential oil counts and that in many cases, an herbal (or other) approach may in fact be more effective.

Could you share one of the ways you use essential oils most often in your own life?

I tend to restrict my use of essential oils to when I need them, usually when I get sick. I tend to use them most often when traveling, to help me adjust to time zones, to protect from germs and to restore my energy levels.

In my practice here in Provence, I use essential oils for a wide range of needs. A recent blend I made for a client here in Provence that was truly wonderful contained Vetiveria zizanioides (Rhus kus), Citrus bergamia (Bergamot), Tsuga canadensis (Hemlock) and Citrus aurantium var. amara (Neroli). This client has complex issues including longstanding fibromyalgia and insomnia and absolutely loves this blend. She is sleeping better, has less pain and is currently reducing her antidepressant medication (under medical supervision) with regular use of this blend in aroma stick and topical applications combined with regular bodywork and counselling.

Which aspect of aromatherapy do you enjoy the most?

My passion is for making a difference to the quality of life for patients living with cancer or those with a lifelimiting illness. This is where the therapist ideally needs a broad set of aromatic skills (clinical, holistic, medical, etc.). I love being able to explore and research specific clinical challenges that therapists in these settings meet on a daily basis and then be able to offer well informed strategies to help them enhance their care.

What is next for you? Are you working on any new projects?

I am never short of ideas and projects! There is, of course, Botanica2018 to organize, the ICAN to set up, as well as some wonderful local projects in my community that involve essential oils. On a personal level, I will be getting married this summer and so that in itself needs some planning!

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS:

  • FAVORITE VEGETABLE - Leeks (well, I am Welsh after all!)
  • FAVORITE FLOWER – Gloriosa superba (flame lily), the national emblem of Zimbabwe
  • FAVORITE PLACE YOU HAVE TRAVELED – the hot springs village of Kurokawa onsen near Mount Aso in Japan
  • FAVORITE ESSENTIAL OIL - This evolves over time depending on how I am feeling and what situations I am in but I confess to being a long-term fan of Lavandula latifolia (spike lavender).

Rhiannon, thank you for being willing to share with us today. AromaCulture readers, I hope you've enjoyed getting to know Rhiannon a bit!

Much love,
Erin

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