Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Aromatherapy in Nursing and Mental Health Care

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Aromatherapy in Nursing and Mental Health Care

Article excerpt


The widespread and increasing use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) across cultures and settings is well documented. The Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005 (World Health Organisation 2002) refers to the growing use of non-conventional, traditional, complementary and alternative medicine in developing and developed countries all over the world. The use of CAM in the treatment of people with mental health problems in the Western world has prompted much debate among mental health professionals including mental health nurses. Aromatherapy is one of the CAM therapies which is a particularly popular intervention in nursing care, especially in the US where it represents the fastest growing type of CAM treatment (Keegan 2003). The primary aim of this paper is to provide a focused review of recent literature on the use of aromatherapy for treating common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. It also aims to broaden the debate about the use of aromatherapy in nursing and mental health by reviewing some of the recent experimentally designed studies measuring physiological parameters following use of essential oils.

Aromatherapy is concerned with the psychological, physiological and pharmacological effects of essential oils introduced by means of inhalation, olfaction and dermal application and thus fully falls under the CAM umbrella; however, defining the concept and content of aromatherapy remains problematic. Perry and Perry (2006) consider the terms 'essential oil therapy' and 'phyto-essential-pharmacology' to be more precise than 'aromatherapy' as the effects of essential oils are not necessarily related to the aromas only. Some practitioners see aromatherapy as a holistic type of intervention which treats 'soul, spirit and body' while a small number of other groups focus on fragrance compounds and essential oils as medicinal agents and attempt to discover their modes of action, primarily in medical treatment. The pharmacological actions of most essential oils remain uncertain. Consequently, Buchbauer has proposed the following quite universal definition of aromatherapy: 'The therapeutic use of fragrances or of volatile substances to cure and to mitigate or to prevent diseases, infections and indispositions only by means of inhalation' (Buchbauer & Jirovetz, 1994: 217). He and his colleagues believe that such a broad definition has helped promote scientific work on aromatherapy and the biological effects of essential oils.

Literature searches for recent studies investigating the use and effectiveness of aromatherapy in psychiatry proved a challenge due to the variation in definitions and terminology. The difficulty of searching for evidence of empirical studies in aromatherapy was identified by Pilkington (2007) who needed to employ a number of indexing terms such as Aromatherapy, Aroma therapy, Essential oil, Odors, Olfactory stimulation, Phytotherapy and Volatile oils to find relevant studies. Despite extensive searches using keywords suggested by Pilkington to search MEDLINE/PubMed, CENTRAL, Cinahl and psychINFO, there is limited and mixed evidence concerning the efficacy of aromatherapy, particularly in treating common mental disorders.


Earlier nursing studies investigating the effects of essential oils on various types patients tended to focus on lavender.Wolfe and Herzberg (1996) supported the idea that Roman chamomile and lavender essential oils can promote sleep in demented patients. Hardy, Kirk-Smith and Stretch (1995) looked at replacing chronic drug treatment with lavender oil for insomnia in psychogeriatric patients and their findings offer support to some anecdotal claims that lavender reduces insomnia. An experimental study conducted in an intensive care unit by Dunn and Collett (1995) found that patients using lavender oil reported significantly greater improvement in their mood and perceived levels of anxiety while Stevensen found that neroli oil reduced anxiety in patients in her randomised control trial on 100 post cardiac surgery patients (Stevensen 1994). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.