In my post for #StressAwarenessMonth in April, I discussed how 45% of days taken as sick leave are owing to stress and mental health issues. In the same way that massage affects the parasympathetic nervous system and alleviates the symptoms of stress, it can also have positive, life-changing effects on those with long-term illness, including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder (formerly manic depression).

I have had the privilege of working with many clients experiencing mental health issues and the results have been extraordinary, beyond anyone’s expectations. One client with bipolar disorder observed a spiritual change, in which she became more accepting of her condition as cyclical, rather like the tides or the phases of the moon. This observation enabled her to feel more connected with God and the universe. She became more comfortable with physical touch and was eventually able to allow me to work on areas of scar tissue, resulting from self-harm. (This client’s treatment has been written up as a case study and published on the internet, which is why I am able to share this information.) Another client had been depressed for a long time, had an emotional release during one session, but was then able to move on, developing a more positive outlook and making healthier lifestyle choices. After a course of six treatments, he was a different man from the one who first walked in.

An added bonus in my own practice is being able to incorporate essential oils in aromatherapy treatments. All essential oils have some effect on the nervous system, partly because of how they interact with our pharmacology and partly because of the neurotransmitters released in our brains when we smell them. Some oils, such as citruses and lemongrass are calming, yet cheerful and uplifting. Heavy woody and floral oils are deeply calming and sensuous. Others such as geranium and palmarosa are balancing. The three most effective antidepressants documented in the aromatherapy literature are basil, Melissa (lemon balm) and frankincense). Basil (shown here) has been reputed to elevate mood for centuries. In his famous 16th century Herbal, English herbalist John Gerard wrote:

“The smell of Basil is good for the heart . . it taketh away sorrowfulness, which cometh of melancholy, and maketh a man merry and glad.”

My client with bipolar disorder was especially responsive to essential oils. She found that the effects on her mood were instantaneous, without the unwelcome side effects of the medication which she was taking. She certainly did not use the oils as a substitute for her medication, but rather as a helpful adjunct. She soon learned the specific effects of an individual oil or blend of oils on her mood and was able to use these to control her mood at home in-between treatment sessions. Over time, her psychiatrist was then able to gradually reduce the dose of some of her medication – result!

Working with all clients with mental health issues feels like a journey, both for them and for the therapist. I find it a great honour and privilege to be invited to share their journey.

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