Career Focus - The World of Complementary Medicine and Alternative Therapies


Herbal oils have been used for centuries in many cultures to treat illness and promote well-being and beauty. In ancient Egypt they were used to embalm the dead, and in the Bible Moses makes an anointing oil from myrrh, calamus, cinnamon and cassia.

In 1910 Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, accidentally burnt his hand. He applied lavender oil to the burn, which healed suprisingly quickly with little scarring. This prompted him to study the theraputic actions of plant oils. His work published in 1936, was developed in the 1960s in France by Dr.Jean Valnet and by Marguerite Maury, a biochemist and beautician. Doctors in France led the way in using essential oils alongisde conventional drugs to treat illness.

Aromatherapist - Colleen O'Flaherty-Hilder

Colleen is a trained Aromatherapist and a practitioner and trainer for Trace Element Therapy. You can see further information about Trace Element Therapy within the dedicated pages of the Career Focus or by visiting -



The Interview

Name - Colleen O'Flaherty-Hilder

Location - South Oxfordshire

Family - one daughter who is 18


How did you become an Aromatherapist? What is your background?

I became an aromatherapist as a natural progression to what I was already doing. In 1982 I had trained in hypnotherapy and mind dynamics. I had also completed a two year full time course in Body Therapy and Beauty Therapy in 1987 in South Africa. In 1988 I had my daughter and returned to the UK. I started my practice in the UK when she was 18 months old. I initially just worked in the evenings at home when my husband was home and she was in bed .

What exactly does Aromatherapy involve?

Aromatherapy is treating the body via specific massage techniques - acupressure points, reflex points and lymphatic drainage - using essential oils which have been diluted in a carrier oil. Also the therapeutic effects of essentials can be used as compresses and inhalents. Each oil has its own therapeutic qualities. i.e. neroli - soothes nervous system; sage - anti-viral, antiseptic;

What sort of problems/issues do clients normally have when they come to you for help/therapy?

A therapist can treat many conditions of the body as the oils are absorbed via the skin into the blood stream and also through the olfactory systems (smell) and many trials have taken place to prove the efficacy of essential oils. Essential oils are prescribed internally in Europe by doctors. It is not legal in this country for the internal use of essential oils.

What/Where was your training? How long did it take overall?

When my daughter was two I trained in Clinical Aromatherapy as most of my work was based on body massage and other body health related treatments. The course I attended was for people who had already qualified in anatomy and physiology and had been practicing massage for at least two years. The length of time it took was three sessions of five days and at the end of each sessions we had examinations.

After training and practising for six months I took the International Federation of Aromtherapists examination and became a member. the IFA were the first organisation to pioneer aromtherapy in the NHS. To qualify to be a member of the IFA one has to undertake 30 hours of Continual Professional Develoment courses every two years.

When my daughter started nursery in the afteroons when she was three I started teaching anatomy and physiology for three afterenoons. Through the owner of the nursery, I was sent cleints with back problems, for which I specialised, and through this connection ended up working on a project with Social Services for women who were in danger of abusing their children and they attended a centre for rehabilitation and assessment. I would do one to one sessions with the mothers and run group sessions doing meditation, relaxation and givin them talks on women's health and nutrition. The objective of my sessions was to help raise their self esteem.

As part of my evolution as a therapist, at the same time as training as an aromatherapist, I was asked by a Swiss Research Centre to train in Trace Element Therapy which I did and I now teach other therapists and market the trace elements in this country. In this connection I was trained in naturopathy as well.

I have also trained in many other modalities to do with emotional release work and personal transformation and this is where my work is mainly based today. Although I always use the essential oils during my sessions.

How did training fit round your children?

The sessions were residential and my husband looked after my daughter whilst I was away.

Roughly, how much did your training cost?

The cost of the course in 1990 was about £1,500. The cost of the course that I took in South Africa was about £3,000.

Where do you carry out your work?

I work from a dedicated healing room in my own home.


Do you need lots of specialist equipment?

The equipment you require is a massage bed and they can be from £200 to £750 roughly. You would also have to have a small trolley and a stool. Towels and the essential oils and carrier oils Good quality essential oils can range from £5 for 10mls of Lavender or Rosemary to £50 for Rose depending on the oil. You also need a dedicated room for this preferably with a handbasin.

How many hours do you work a week?

I work roughly 20 hours a week.

How does the job fit round your family life?

Because I control my diary I can be very flexible with my working hours. When my daughter was younger I just blocked out days during school holidays, or afternoons. If there were meetings at school or dental appointments I just shuffled my week around. All my clients were very understanding and always would ask me what my arrangments would be during the summer holidays when I went on to a skeleton programme as they knew that I wouldn't be able to see them so frequently. My daughter would go to summer holiday courses; she started riding when she was 9 so would be at the stables for half days etc. As she got older she would spend more time at the stables. From the age of about 4-9 during the long summer holidays I would employ someone to come to the house and keep her occupied. They were usually A level students or university students who were musical or dramatic and would keep her amused - at home.

I would just do morning or afternoon sessions so that I could spend time with her myself.

How do you find clients - do you advertise?

I never actually advertised myself. When I first started I gave talks at our local gym and handed out 'free' advice on various things like diet and exercise and skin problems which raised my profile as 'someone' who had interesting information. When my daughter was four I was offered a part time position at a clinic which was developing a programme for ME/chronic fatigue. I initially said that I could only work one afternoon a week but as I got busier they would often let my daughter come with me and the receptionists or the doctors would keep her occupied. I had various articles in local newspapers but mainly my clients come through word of mouth and now homeopaths, chiropractors and other practitioners refer clients to me.

What is the earning potential?

In this regard it is difficult to say how much I would earn as an aromatherapist as I do not strictly do that. My treatments incorporate other trainings I have completed over this twenty year period. I charge £50 per session and I work from home. Children and pensioners get a reduced rate. If I had to rent a room at a practice it would be more.

Do you think it is a job that fits in well with being a Mum?

I was fortunate ten years ago to move to my present house where I have a separate annexe and have always been 'at home' when my daughter was at home. Even though I was not in the house I was around and popped in at lunch time and in between clients. So, when she became a teenager, although I wanted to give her independence, she was never left on her own.

Do you think you have to have any special qualities (in terms of personality) to become an Aromatherapist?

The qualities required for an aromatherapist are: be interested in other people, be interested in wanting to improve other people, be a good listener and have a really good sense of humour.

It is also very important to have a very good understanding of Anatomy and Physiology and the nature of disease so that you can recognise when to refer someone to a doctor. I have had a few occasions when someone has come to me and I have referred them immediately to a doctor and not treated them. One person was later diagnosed as I having the very early stages of cancer.

Any advice for a Mum or Dad wanting to start training?

My advice to anyone who wishes to train is to find a really good course that is going to be recognised by the approriate authorities in the future. Otherwise with the present legislation which is going through on complementary therapies, if you do not have the correct qualification you will not be able to practice. One organisation that is recognised by the various bodies is the International Federation of Aromatherapists.

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