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December 14, 2016 6 min read

Have you ever heard someone say that their company has a licensed aromatherapist? What about a certified aromatherapist? Registered aromatherapist? Clinical aromatherapist? What's the deal with the aromatherapy titles & certifications?

For anyone new to aromatherapy, these “titles” can be a little confusing if you don’t understand them or the school issuing them. In this article I will share with you the facts about the titles that are currently used and share brief information about each.

Registered Aromatherapist (RA)

This is is currently the only recognized title that works toward standardizing the aromatherapy industry. This title verifies that an individual understands basic concepts of safety, anatomy & physiology, ethical practitioner standards, and thorough knowledge of essential oils. It is regulated by the Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC).

The title of RA can only be earned by applying to the ARC to sit for their exam. The cost for each application is $325. The exam has a couple hundred questions regarding aromatherapy and is a proctored exam. This means no phones or notes. If the approved applicant is able to correctly answer a minimum of 70% of the questions, they will pass and receive the title Registered Aromatherapist (RA).

Before applying, the individual must have successfully completed a level two program that includes anatomy and physiology. Then they can apply to sit for the 3-4 hour exam.

Once an individual receives their title, they are then required to continue their education in order to maintain their title. The number of hours required is 100 over a period of five years.

It is important to note that this title can be verified on the ARC website within 6 to 8 weeks of the individual passing the exam. So if you're ever curious if the individual is indeed titled as a registered aromatherapist, you need only look on the ARC website.

Aromatherapy Certificates & Titles

Certified aromatherapist

This is not actually a title, but instead a certification that an individual can receive after taking a course. There are several essential oil businesses, companies, and schools that have created programs where an individual attends in person or takes an online program that provides a certificate. Many of these that I have seen are less than 15 hours in credits although there are a few programs that offer higher than 400 hours.

So how much training is required to be a "certified aromatherapist?" There are currently no regulations by any form of government that specify how much training is needed although current industry organizations do require specific levels of training for various schools to comply with.

Certified Aromatherapist (CA)

Generally, an individual must complete 200 hours worth of training, coursework, and at least 76 hours worth of anatomy and physiology. Both organizations are very similar in the number of hours.

Only at this level would most individuals be educated enough to understand basic safety and other basic concepts related to essential oils.

Advanced Certified Aromatherapist (ACA) or Advanced Certified Practitioner (ACP)

For advanced/clinical certification, an individual will typically complete a minimum of 400 hours of training and coursework.

This level gets into a lot more chemistry as well as covers over 100-150 essential oils that are often different than what is offered in the previously mentioned certificate. The chemistry alone focuses more on individual components, their potential properties, and molecular structure. These are important for many safety related reasons.

Aromatic Medicine

Aromatic Medicine Diploma

This is a very specialized area of study that individuals can only receive after completing a minimum of 200-300 hours. Students interested in this level of training must be able demonstrate competence regarding completion of coursework for any previous studiesprior to being admitted for this program.

This is in large part due to the fact that this program is very dependent on the individual’s understanding of anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. It is not a course that is recipe based, but science based for anyone curious.

Individuals that are accepted into the program are not only required to be present for each class to participate, but they are also required to case studies after completion demonstrating their knowledge and understanding of aromatic medicine.

Just to be clear, aromatic medicine can be defined as any form of internal use of essential oils and extracts to support and enhance our body’s natural balance. Internal use includes vaginal and rectal suppositories in addition to oral formulations (this doesnotinclude adding essential oils to water as this isnot a safe practice).

Vintage Aromatherapists & Self Study

A vintage aromatherapist is someone who has helped paved the way for the knowledge that we currently have and utilize in safe and balanced use of essential oils.  Additionally, they have not just taken  one course, but many courses that they have completed and they continue their studies. These individuals are very few and far between for us in the United States. They are individuals like and include Sylla Sheppard-Hanger and Marge Clark to name two of the handful that practice and share the safe and balanced approach to using essential oils.

Did you notice that "safe and balanced" was mentioned two times? That is because while many claim to be experts or have the knowledge required to educate others, very few really do. There are a few individuals who have learned via self study and do understand the importance of this, but they are few and far between as well.

Sometimes you can find these individuals at AIA or NAHA conventions. Just like a qualified aromatherapist, they can be difficult to find.

Certified Clinical Aromatherapist (CCA)

This is a very tricky title and dare I say one that is frequently confused. For a period of time, individuals who completed more than 400 hours worth of coursework for aromatherapy were able to attain certificates from certain schools. These certificates translated to the assumed title of “Certified Clinical Aromatherapist.”

However, there is a concern with using this title. For anyone who works in a doctor’s office, hospital, or any other true clinical setting, the use of this title implies that the holder must work in the same setting. However, there are actually a very small number of individuals that do use aromatherapy in this type of setting.

Many aromatherapy practitioners with advanced or clinical level training do NOT work in hospitals or even with doctors. Instead they work from an office space where they are able to meet with clients. While they do offer case studies showing successes and uses of essential oils, this is not the same as working with a doctor.

Licensed aromatherapist

At this point in time there is no such thing or title as a licensed aromatherapist. Period.

There are no state or federal organization that regulate aromatherapy as a trade organization in order to do this. Massage therapists are licensed because they have a trade organization that regulates specific standards that the therapist utilizes. This includes testing for competency and requiring continuing education in their industry.

How do Industry Organizations fit into this?
There are currently two organizations that have requirements for what is considered a level one, two, or three (advanced/clinical) certified aromatherapist or practitioner.  Each organization is a little different than the other in their specifications for what each level of training requires. Additionally, these certificates and levels are more related to which level of membership one can hold within the organizations.

The first organization is the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) and the other is the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists (NAHA). Both are very good organizations but in regards to membership levels, AIA's requirements are more rigorous than NAHA's.You can find AIA’s list of requirements for their level one here and NAHA’s here.

 Essential Oil Certification

So Who Do You Trust?

The most important information to look at when looking at the differences between the organizations/schools and their certifications is the hours and testing each has set in place for their varying certifications.

Remember, the more training an individual has, the better they are equipped to truly help you regardless of the school. So that regardless of their certification title, it is easy to see the difference between an individual who is titled as a certified aromatherapist and one who is qualified based on this information.

The reality though, is that it isn’t the title or certification that an individual holds. It is the level of training that one receives and how they use that knowledge that matters.

I encourage you to ask questions if someone says they are certified. I encourage you to continue learning. I encourage you so much to make sure you really understand because just like the use of essential oils, nothing is black and white with labels and certifications in our industry as of yet.