Add as bookmark

Wise Women Change and Heal

by Lindsay Woodman(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 175 - October 2010

In Europe indigenous healers throughout the ancient and medieval times used herbal extracts, influencing the body and mind to aid healing from illness. These healers came from ordinary backgrounds and worked with those who could not afford the service of trained physicians. They were very often women, who possessed the knowledge and vision of generations of traditional remedies. These 'Wise Women' worked with all conditions, and were particularly important in the role of women's fertility and to midwifery, but as time went on those in power within this increasingly patriarchal society became threatened by this time-honoured system of care. In the British Science Museum's website it states:

"From at least as far back as the 1600s, elite, university-trained doctors sought to discredit the wise woman tradition. Yet it was not as removed from elite medicine as they claimed - nor was it as ineffective as they liked to think... Wise women and their medicines were often scoffed at by professionally trained doctors, nearly always male, who were anxious to protect their professional status. However, more recently the herbal remedies of folk medicine have been found to include many naturally occurring ingredients that are medically useful."[1]
Our raw materials
Our raw materials

So it is long established that authorities have found the community-based self-help within health very threatening, and it appears that this is still the case. Today there is virtually no government support, and frequently our natural therapies and healers are discredited, even though the public trust in and use of them is significantly increasing. The historical negative influence is so deep-rooted and insidious that natural therapists often carry a sense of being the medical under-dog. It would be hard to find a British trained Aromatherapists today who has not been told that aromatherapy is only useful, at best, as having a pampering placebo effect, often by people who know nothing about our practice.

For example one of my students highlighted some research titled, "Aromatherapy may make you feel good, but it won't make you well".[2]

The researchers chose to test lemon and lavender only "since they were two of the most popular scents tied to aromatherapy" and not because of the therapeutic properties for which they have been used. They tested the two essential oils by doused cotton wool balls; taping them under the nose of volunteers, the participant were then asked to put their feet in extremely cold water with a temperature of 32°F, to see if the essential oils reduced stress and pain reaction. Their conclusion was that essential oils are more or less useless in pain reduction due to cortisol and norepinephrine being unchanged in blood tests. The British Aromatherapist Josie Donaldson's unpublished research into essential oils and their influence on bio-chemical previously concluded that these two essential oils do not work with either cortisol or norepinephrine, even though they influence other biochemicals creating other useful properties and uses. The researchers' conclusion was misguided, and like so many before, due to their lack of knowledge about the therapy, they were testing the oils against the wrong yardstick. A parallel conclusion would be to say, "Aspirins do not make you heal when you cut your leg".

This type of research enforces a sense of superiority with the almost pre-empted conclusion, that because the aroma of a particular essential oil encourages you to take your foot out of freezing cold water quickly (an intelligent response I would have thought) rather than making you bear the pain, that aromatherapy "won't make you well". The researchers also do not even quantify what they mean by "well"-ness. One of the researchers, Malarkey, does mention "that the human body is infinitely complex, if an individual patient uses these oils and feels better, there's no way we can prove it doesn't improve that person's health." Why then the glaring headlines bringing aromatherapy falsely into disrepute?

As an Aromatherapist I am trained to work with people to facilitate healing. The plants and techniques that I use have been observed and increasingly positively researched to help not just the body, but also influence thinking, emotions and expand potential. Aromatherapists use their skills to safely use powerful herbal extracts that influence particular biochemical and hormonal actions in the body. Using the complete active principal in the plant in conjunction with its wonderful aesthetic appeal is the skill of the holistic Aromatherapist, to harness the true potential of the essential oils part in healing both the body and in the case of stress influencing the thought forms that can induce physical illness.

Melissa officinalis
Melissa officinalis

Chamomila matricaria
Chamomila matricaria

The symptom is honoured as a message from the personal wholeness and becomes a guide for identifying what needs to be encouraged and cultivated.[3]

Let us look now at how the symptoms of ill health can be addressed. General Practitioners deal often with physical symptoms of a patient and are very good at diagnosing. After discovering the 'problem', a GP could use for example, a diuretic for fluid retention or painkillers for a headache. These may stop the particular conditions from manifesting in that form, but why did the person have a headache in the first place, and does he or she need to continue taking drugs to suppress the symptoms and to maintain a status quo? Another consideration is that the drugs taken may also have side effects, which may have to be managed by more drugs or indeed the underlying problem may re-manifest through a different disease. The client has lost control of their own body by placing power into the health professional, to whom pharmaceutical companies are selling drugs. There is no reason why the pharmaceutical companies would wish to change this situation at all as they are making colossal profits, and they in fact encourage sales by offering doctors incentives and perks to help them make their decisions on which particular drug to use.

But a change is coming and it is coming from the people who wish to be well. Dissatisfied by the results of conventional medicine, many people are starting to take control of their own lives, becoming more confident in taking control and responsibility for making their own health decisions, in an attempt to increase their state of wellbeing. Holistic Aromatherapy is a very good example of where people may look to address their health issues. Our practice steers healing away from the dangerous practice of overusing drugs, that we have seen so often just treats symptoms. Motivating our practice is a desire to assist individuals in addressing their health issues and in creating healthier environments for themselves, as opposed to being driven by immense profiteering in the way that the drug industry works.

The individual who visits arrives at a Holistic Aromatherapist with an illness to be treated can expect principled therapists to use organic and ethically sourced essential oils and carriers. Organic is normal, inorganic uses poison. The Earth is sick with poison and we cannot balance the hidden pain of production in our healing. Also carbon-neutral hands and arms massage out pain and communicate deeply with the individual through touch. The Aromatherapist encourages a shift away from the idea of a 'magic pill which makes things better' to a change in lifestyle, supporting a real move forward away from the presenting symptoms and underlying illness. The therapist helps educate the person to create small, honest changes in their client's lives, to assist a less toxic, healthier personal environment, supporting personal healing and wellness.

After an aromatherapy treatment
After an aromatherapy treatment

It can be difficult for individuals in our society to exchange habitual practices of over-consumption for more healthy and sustainable ways of living, especially as we in the West, live in indulgent comfort and in a media-filled illusion of safety. We are constantly encouraged to buy into any products that create more money and power for ever-growing companies and corporations, some of which can now wield more influence than whole countries.

Many people still do not believe that changing their own lives will help resolve our combined over-use and abuse of food and resources, which is now causing a chronic, life-threatening personal and world situation. But this manic, never-ending ingestion does not satisfy, as the appetite is strangely never quenched, and if we cannot adapt to increasingly healthy options there will be no human life, no animals and no plants as they all will come to an end with us.

Our imprudence creates imbalances in the health of each of us, variance in the overall health of individual societies due to having too much or too little, with the outcome of the overuse of the limited resources of the planet we live upon. To draw us back from personal and planetary sickness we each have to take responsibility individually, as every small act of considered un-polluting change will be one step away from the abyss. We need individual positive visions to optimise our collective futures, with the advantage of reducing the common fear of a poison-filled future. Examining the symptoms that the excesses have created illustrates where the disparities lie, and affirms the path to wellness. Wonderfully, this simple positive change supports the wellness, not only of us, but also of our great-grandchildren. Influencing the microcosm changes the macrocosm.

Every problem, each pain, disability, disease, is understood as a hole for the entry of wholeness, a portal for the arrival of an ally. An ally who opens doorways to transformation. An ally who can protect you. An ally who brings you gifts. An ally who returns your missing pieces. An ally who guides you to integration, through disintegration. An ally of wholeness, who accepts all of you. An ally who reminds you of your mortality and immortality.[4]

The time is returning when therapists are reclaiming confidence in their own power, ability and historical importance. However unseen it is, deep down, each human being knows their completeness and their power; accessing this place allows a movement toward positive change. Individuals choosing to alter their outlook into more positive life-affirming options will find the 'feel good factor', increasing their potential for finding personal happiness. We all have the potential to change and at every moment it is possible to make more positive and healthy choices for ourselves.

Although aromatherapy is historically a fairly new therapy, it is well placed in medicine and the healing arts. Aromatherapy has its roots in Western herbalism that has kept people healthy since time began. We also are energy healers, following the footsteps of spiritual healers and shamans seen in every culture and religion through the ages. We bring into our craft Eastern philosophy and modern science, creating an inclusive and modern treatment.

As a practising therapist and teacher of Holistic Aromatherapy and Reiki, my individual role in this perspective is not only to facilitate healing within individuals, but also to train people that are drawn to follow their vocation in working to their fullness and to spread health throughout society. It is an exciting time to be involved in aromatherapy, as the therapy is moving from its youth and starting to look maturity full in the face. Aromatherapy is becoming less 'alternative', and becoming increasingly understood and valued.

Healing hands
Healing hands

Aromatherapy is accepted as a useful tool for helping in the preparation and the facilitation of active childbirth, both in the community and within many hospitals. Aromatherapists, as complementary therapists, are paid to work within the Hospice Movement, bringing our skills alongside the NHS, Hospice and Macmillan Nurses. Aromatherapy and Massage help also increasingly within the care sector, increasing the wellbeing of those caring and cared for alike. Some Health Centres and Well Women's Clinics also employ Aromatherapists to reduce stress and the need for medication. From this list it is apparent that women workers, who seem to be more open to holistic care, often dominate these areas of health. Respect and knowledge is being gained on both sides, and lessons are being learnt.

So Healers rise up! Be strong, do not apologize for your wholesome techniques with your sensitive and individualized approach to care. Do your work with self-respect. Trust the power that you have in your fingertips to change and heal, directing that which is not healthy into health. Let us see the return of a local, known, wholesome and accessible healer, on every street of every town and village. Let us celebrate that we embody the return of the 'Wise Woman' to care for and educate his or her community, in positive life affirming health.


1.    Science Museum website, access 14.4.10
2.    Kiecolt-Glaser, Glaser and Malarkey, Ohio State's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research. Columbus. access 6.7.10
3.    Plotkin B. Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness in a Fragmented World. New World Library. Novato, CA. ISBN-10: 1577315510. 2008.
4.    Weed S. Healing Wise. Ash Tree Publishing. Woodstock, NY ISBN-10: 0961462027. 1989.


  1. No Article Comments available

Post Your Comments:

About Lindsay Woodman

Lindsay Woodman BA Hons LLSA MIFA Reiki Master is a Holistic Aromatherapist having gained her Diploma, with honours, in 1996, and a member of the International Federation of Aromatherapists. She runs her own practice in North Wales and is a Reiki Master, which she incorporates into her aromatherapy. Lindsay is Founder and Principal of the Welsh School of Aromatherapy, which runs courses up to and beyond professional level, including Holistic Aromatherapy Diploma, Aromatouch course for carers, Reiki Attunements and correspondence courses. Lindsay may be contacted on Tel. 01766 890 500;

top of the page