This week is Aromatherapy Awareness Week, so we’ve taken the opportunity to share how aromatherapy is used within St. Margaret’s Hospice.

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to enhance psychological and physical wellbeing, and is an important part of the Complementary Therapies that we offer to patients at St. Margaret’s Hospice, aiming to treat the person as a whole.

Suzi Chester, St. Margaret’s Complementary Therapy Coordinator, is a qualified Aromatherapist. She says “At the hospice, aromatherapy is mainly used through massage. It is applied to the patient’s skin, usually with a gentle pressure, but it’s also used for inhalation which can be on a tissue, through a vaporiser or through aromasticks. We can also make up bath milk with essential oils for patients.”

“There are so many benefits of aromatherapy – it can help to lift mood, and improve wellbeing, as well as alleviating depression, stress, fatigue and pain. One of the things that we often hear during treatments is the patient saying ‘I’ve forgotten my pain’ which is so important.”

Our Aromatherapists will have a consultation with the patient before beginning treatment to understand which essential oil will work best for them. Suzi says “Different oils have different therapeutic properties. For example, bergamot lifts mood; frankincense is good for relaxation and works as a mild anti-depressant, while peppermint can help nausea. It’s also important though that the patient likes the smell of the oil, and the therapist will always check that they enjoy the smell before using it.”

“Smell is very powerful and can evoke cherished recollections – the scent of roses can take you back to memories of walking through a rose garden, for example. And, while a patient may have experienced invasive treatments with difficult side-effects, this is chance to offer a gentler side to their care. Gentle touch and aromas give pleasure providing comfort and support.”

Aromatherapy is our second most popular therapy, after reflexology, and we have around 6 Aromatherapists across our hospices. As aromatherapy is prescriptive for each patient, only qualified Aromatherapists can make up a blend. Essential oils are very powerful substances – they are used in diluted form with 1 drop of essential oil to 5mls of a carrier oil, such as coconut oil.

Patients receive aromatherapy on the ward, in our Sunflower Day Hospice Centres, or as an outpatient; we also provide aromatherapy for carers and families in our hospices. If a patient likes a specific oil, we can teach carers to use this to give the patient a hand massage.

Suzi says “I love my job, it’s so fulfilling – in July I’ll have been working here for 10 years. You meet some amazing people and I’ve been really touched by a few. I love seeing people, who are clearly feeling stressed and anxious, relax as they come in to the therapy room – the twinkly lights, the smells and the music all provide a calming environment. It’s a space for them, somewhere that they can feel safe. I love that they go out feeling better than when they came in.

“But it isn’t without its sadness. You can be with patients for a large part of their journey, and I just hope to have made their journey easier.”