As a whole, I loved college.
One thing, however, I did not love about college was having to pay for the books for all of my classes. Anyone who has been there knows how this experience is typically a painful one for the financially strapped college student. Books, esp. those related to academia, are not cheap.
However, they are valuable. Yes, we all hear stories of people coasting through their classes without purchasing the required reading or on the flipside those who only read the book, shirk class attendance, and still manage to pass the class. But, having played both those games in college myself as well as getting the full experience of class + required reading, I can say with some authority that there is a difference in what you get out of things. And to that end, attending class while having the appropriate reading material on hand absolutely allows you to get the most out of things.
Now, there may be some who would argue with this, but I would argue back that—at least in the majority of cases—there is ultimately less understood about any given subject matter than is being realized. This isn’t said to point fingers or start fights. As I stated before, I’m talking about personal experience here as well (and cringing at the memory of a computer class I took).
So, what does this have to do with aromatherapy, and why am I bringing it up?
Well, as is entirely reasonable, people today are rightfully concerned with doing appropriate research and becoming educated in matters of essential oils and aromatherapy—whether for personal or professional purposes. But what is often not fully realized is that there is a difference between professional and personal education.
Professional education looks like class + required reading. You get the benefit of personal exploration (via reading), applied practice (through interaction with peers and instructors), and grading and guidance (through the watchful eye of instructors). What is key here is that personal research and exploration is encouraged, but there are checks and balances in place in the form of your aromatherapy teachers. And what is most important to acknowledge about aromatherapy teachers is that the overseeing authority is qualified in the field and able to intelligently, professionally, and accurately assess the work you have done or are doing.
Personal education doesn’t look the same. As a matter of fact, personal education can look different for nearly everyone. People may flock to social media groups or aromatherapy and essential oil websites to learn. Others may seek out the guidance of professional aromatherapists (kudos to you all!) while others rely on what some companies’ sales reps promote. There may be the odd podcast or seminar here or there that they indulge or maybe a class, or they may turn to aromatherapy books and texts.
And that’s what we’re going to focus on for the moment.
Aromatherapy books are wonderful. In general, unless just full of misinformation, there is much more to glean from a book than most of these other resources. And nowadays, there is a much stronger push from professional aromatherapists to the general public to be reaching for these books in lieu of stalking social media for the next best remedy for whatever condition. But there is a large downside to the push for more book exploration also. We are often now seeing where many essential oil and aromatherapy enthusiasts are assuming that because they read a book, they now have a full understanding of “X” subject matter within the field. Likewise, we sometimes see a similar mentality from professional aromatherapists—where there is the assumption that reading a book makes them an expert or makes them qualified to be teaching certain subjects in our field.
And it’s just not that simple.
As described in our college scenario above, a book is just one part of an education. It’s not a complete picture. And while it is an extremely valuable part of an education, we must be fair and honest with ourselves and recognize a few things:
- A single book never covers everything. There is always more that can be learned.
- We all read through particular lenses, and it is entirely possible that we may misinterpret or misunderstand parts of or even whole books (look at what has happened with the misrepresentation of Essential Oil Safety by Tisserand & Young).
- A book, read alone, is consumed without guidance that may temper the misinterpretations or misunderstandings that can occur.
There is a reason aromatherapists attend classes. There is a reason more seasoned aromatherapists are encouraging the younger generations of professionals to step out from behind their computers, dig in, and attend in-person instruction. There is a reason that nearly every aromatherapist who has done so will tell others, yes, they need to do so as well. There is a reason we have teacher trainings.
If we don’t, we don’t experience the full picture. We don’t get the complete learning experience.
Books are great. Read the books. For the love of everything, read the books—new and old. Even if some of the texts are outdated in some areas, you will experience the history that is the glue that holds the field of aromatherapy together. You will come to better understand yet another piece of the picture.
But I would caution you in assuming that a book prepares you to be able to practice aromatherapy or teach specialized areas of our craft. Yes, there are bad books, bad classes, bad instructors, or bad whatever else you can think of. But this does not negate the very real need for all these things—minus the "bad" part. Remember that there’s no shortcut to real knowledge. And you shouldn’t cheat yourself (or others) with an assumption otherwise. As said, books are great, but they can't give you everything you need to truly understand aromatherapy and essential oils.