The Identity Crisis in Aromatherapy

by | Feb 16, 2016

I have been getting a number of calls and emails regarding recent statements concerning aromatherapy in social and other media.  They vary in content from “myths about essential oils” to “research on essential oils” to blanket generalizations about essential oils.  I will discuss what I am calling the Identity Crisis in Aromatherapy later in this newsletter, but first, I would like to share an important announcement regarding my Shining Sun Aromatherapy practice and some upcoming events that I hope you will be able to attend or share with others who might be interested.


Retirement from Level I Teaching after 2016

I will be retiring from teaching the Wisdom of the Earth Level I Certification program after my three classes scheduled in 2016.  It is time for me to leverage myself more effectively…so I will continue to teach the 5.5 day WOTE Advanced Aromatherapy Retreat (“Level II”) with Barry and Cynthia Olivera de Kapp which is offered twice a year at our Wisdom of the Earth facility outside of Sedona, AZ; on-line classes and seminars…some to be developed…as well as the Skype Level I, which I have done for some time; and I will do more writing, which I love, including finishing my book on Meditation and Essential Oils and other projects I have considered for some time.

I will miss the joy and enthusiasm of the Level 1 classes, whether at my studio in Santa Fe or at Northcoast Essentials in Arcata, CA.  However, I have been teaching Level 1 for over 15 years, and I know our incredible Level I faculty (listed on the Wisdom of the Earth website) will continue their amazing classes that get rave reviews from students all over the country and in Japan.  Any of the certified students I have taught will be able to audit Level I classes taught by these WOTE contracted teachers — all of whom have received their Level I and Advanced Retreat certifications, and who are senior members of the WOTE family.

A heart-felt thank you to all of those over the years who have entrusted their training in medicinal aromatherapy to me.  Your trust and commitment mean the world to me, and I have been honored to be your teacher.  Here are two of my wonderful classes in Santa Fe…I wish I had been more consistent in my picture-taking, as I do not have group pictures for most of my classes!

May 2013 Level 1

level 1 outside








Upcoming Level I and Level II Classes

March 12-13 Level I in Arcata, CA (Humboldt County, northern CA):  I will be teaching the Level I Certification class at Northcoast Essentials Saturday and Sunday, March 12-13, 2016.  Times will be the standard times, 9:30-6:00 both days.  For more details on the Level I class, please visit my website and read the description and testimonials.  There is a registration form you can download, if you decide the time is right for you!  Please let me know ASAP if you want to register.  I have extended the Early Registration discount until midnight, February 20th.

April 12-17 Level II in Cornville, AZ, just outside of Sedona at Wisdom of the Earth.  Please see my Shining Sun Aromatherapy website for details.  This is a life-changing immersion into the heart and soul of aromatherapy.  Still room for a few more students!

Level 2 April 2015

Level 2

Level 2 pouring station






June 4-5 Level I in Santa Fe, NM  9:30-6:00 both days.  For more details on the Level 1 class, please visit my website and read the description and testimonials.  There is a registration form you can download, if you decide the time is right for you!  Early registration discount ends May 4th.

September 10-11 Level I in Santa Fe, NM  LAST  LEVEL I I WILL BE TEACHING  9:30-6:00 both days.  For more details on the Level 1 class, please visit my website and read the description and testimonials.  There is a registration form you can download, if you decide the time is right for you! Early registration discount ends August 10th.

The Identity Crisis in Aromatherapy

While I may be engaging in hyperbole just a bit with this title, I do not think that it is an overstatement to say that there are many schools of thought that have co-existed for some time in the world of Aromatherapy.  But, like much of American culture these days, what seems to be happening is that these schools of thought are becoming more polarized…that is, “my/our view is right…the others are wrong”.  And that is saying it much more politely than I have sometimes seen or heard.  Why do I think this?

There seem to be a lot more “declarative statements” now than before.  By that, I mean, generalizations stated as fact, with little or no room for other views on the same subject.   “Never use an undiluted oil on your skin.”  “Never use Mugwort…it is dangerous.”  “Never use oils during a pregnancy.”  None of these specific “black and white” declarations are substantiated by my training or experience, so I disregard them while still exercising prudence and respect for the power of the oils.  Kurt Schnaubelt, an internationally known aromatherapist, scientist, and one of our teachers and mentors, observed in his book The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils (pg. 76) that ” ‘even the safety of essential oils during pregnancy discussion’ seems to abate due to the stubborn absence of reports of any adverse effects.”

Cat for ETBasically, I think that many of these safety arguments come down to a love versus fear paradigm. There have always been articles circulating the Internet like those that said that Lavender was causing breast development in young boys (my bet is on the growth hormones in so much of our milk and meat products), and that you couldn’t use essential oils on cats because it is toxic for them (tell that to the cat Barry saved who had had a stroke…which the vet was treating with antibiotics).  But there seems to be more of it now, stated with greater certainty.   To share another quote from Kurt’s powerful book:  “To get out from underneath these layers of trumped-up concerns, the whole safety and toxicity discussion needs to be turned upside down.  Instead of perpetuating mantras about imaginary dangers, the inherently benign nature of essential oils needs to be recognized.” (pg. 75)  I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t think the scientists and non-scientists need to be at odds, with lines drawn in the sand.  While science isn’t my “thing”, I believe there can be value in well-designed, well-executed and properly interpreted research on essential oils and their effectiveness with various health conditions.  However, sometimes science doesn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Take the gentleman who came to our Wisdom of the Earth booth years ago at a Holistic Health show…he was doing research at the NIH on Frankincense, as he proudly told us, but, in the name of objectivity, had never smelled Frankincense, nor had he ever experienced it personally (i.e., applied it to his skin).   It truly made me wonder what sense he was going to make of the data collected.  Also, he said that their research goal was ultimately to find the isolate in Frankincense that made it effective so that it could be patented, synthetically produced, and mass-marketed.  He looked at us like we were crazy when we explained to him our view that Frankincense would not work the same in the body if it weren’t in its wholeness, and certainly not if it were synthetic.  He shook his head, packed up his things and stormed away from our booth…and we looked at each other and shook our heads as well. Time to agree to disagree.

Or, when you have no idea of the purity of the essence being tested (I have honestly never seen this addressed in an essential oil research report), or even if it truly IS the essence said to be studied (one study I saw years ago used the terms Melissa and Lemon Verbena interchangeably…even though they are totally different plants/oils…they were likely referring to the common name for Melissa, Lemon Balm, but it was incorrectly stated throughout the article); well, such issues raise doubts in my mind, and I, for one, am not going to view the results as gospel.  So, I look at everything, including scientific “evidence” to see if it resonates with me; to see if it makes sense, relative to my experience, intuition and training; and to see if it passes the “Audre’s truth” test.

That leads me to another oft debated or denigrated aspect of essential oils, namely, their consciousness, or, as some might describe it, their “aliveness”.  Recently, an article by essential oil chemist Rob Pappas which “debunks” a list of “myths” regarding essential oils, has been circulating the Internet.  One of these myths concerns those who believe that the essences are alive.  As he says: “Sorry to disappoint, but essential oils are not alive.  I would like to see anyone go through a 212+ degree distillation process for a few hours and come out alive at the other end, LOL.  The plant material is certainly not alive after the distillation, so I am not sure how anyone could believe the the oil is alive.”

Level 2 student bonding with treeBasically, this conflict of views comes down to science versus spirituality, in my humble opinion.  And, despite the sometimes acrimonious nature of this “identity crisis”,  I do not care to get into shouting matches about whether the oils are sentient beings or not.  I do not care to try to convince even one disbelieving person that the plants, trees and essential oils talk to me…and to others.  It all comes down to whether we can hear them, and whether we believe what we have heard.  I have seen enough of our students have life-changing experiences from meditating with the essences, or spending thirty minutes bonding with a tree or plant, or feeling “called” by a particular essential oil to know that my profound experiences with the oils and the Plant Kingdom are not limited to me.  They are repeated time and time again across people, plant species, and geographic locations.


Our (my, Barry and Cynthia’s) forthcoming book, Voices of Light, Voices of Love…Messages from the Plants and Trees offers an incredible array of transformational experiences with the essences/plants and trees that some of our Level I students have documented in their certification papers over the years.  These are the kind of accounts you couldn’t make up if you tried…and I know that they were life-changing experiences shared from the truth of their hearts.

While these experiences may not be “fact” or “truth” to some people…they certainly are to me.  And I need no one’s approval of that or confirmation of that.  It just is.  And it is beautiful, and it is life-changing.  And it is an honor to engage in cross-species communication with the plants/oils, just as it is with a precious dog or a wild animal.

While some feel the need to hold others hostage to their truth concerning the dangers of essential oils and numerous prohibitions regarding their use, I am happy to take my lead from the plants and trees, my own study and experience, and my own intuition and higher guidance. I believe in honoring the views of others, even if I don’t agree with them, or even if those views do not mirror my experience over the years.  I believe in respect and reasonableness, and that is how I will continue to operate.

Wishing you introspection, deep love for the plants and trees, and a respect for the views of others…

Audre Gutierrez
Owner, Shining Sun Aromatherapy & Partner, Wisdom of the Earth Essential Oils   [email protected]
Please respect my ownership of the information contained in this post.  I would welcome you sharing it, as long as you give me and Shining Sun Aromatherapy attribution.  Thank you!