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The Occupation of Aromatherapist Recognised As A Profession In Official UK Government Statistics.

By Kendra Kirkham

We are pleased to be able to publish this important article submitted to the RQA Newsletter (March 2001) and thank the RQA for their permission to reproduce the piece.

The ten-yearly update of the Standard Occupational Classifications publication, was released on the 5th June 2000 by the Governments' Office of National Statistics (ONS) and has some changes.

This new edition, (SOC 2000), prepared by the Occupational Information Unit of the ONS and the Institute for Employment Research at Warwick University, reflects the greater range of skills and higher levels of educational attainment being introduced into the labour market.

Coal picking and other defunct occupations have been abolished as occupational activities that do not exist anymore in the UK.

Of interest to Aromatherapy Professionals is the fact that the publication recognises Aromatherapists for the first time (according to their press-release) as a new occupation that has been identified.

This is not strictly the case though, as a volume of the previous SOC was updated five years ago with the inclusion of Aromatherapist as a new classification at that time.   

SOC 2000 puts jobs that are similar in terms of qualifications, training, skills and experience into groups within a framework that has different levels of detail.

'Skills' are defined in terms of the nature and duration of the qualifications, training and work experience required to become competent to perform the associated tasks in a particular job.

There are four levels; major groups, sub-major groups, minor groups and occupation unit groups.

The 'Professional Occupations' major group "covers occupations whose main tasks require a high level of knowledge and experience and most occupations in this major group require a degree or equivalent qualification."

The 'Associated Professional and Technical Occupations' major group "covers occupations whose main tasks require experience and knowledge of principles and practices necessary to assume operational responsibility and to give technical support to professionals.  Also, to provide skilled support to health and social care professionals."

Most occupations in this major group will have "an associated high-level vocational qualification, often involving a substantial period of full-time training or further study." 

Job titles are assigned to different unit groups, the lowest and most detailed level of classification.

Aromatherapists come under the major group heading of  'Associate Professional and Technical Occupations'.

Web designer, Desk Top Publisher, Aerobics Instructor and Paramedic are other new occupations that are identified in this major category.

We come under the sub-major group of 'Health and Social Welfare Associate Professionals'

'Health and Social Welfare Associate Professionals' "provide a variety of technical support functions for health professionals in the treatment of patients, apply physical, therapeutic and other treatments or activities to assist in physical and psychological recovery, and provide social welfare and related community services."

We come under the minor heading of 'Therapists'.

The minor group of 'Therapists' has four headings - 'Physiotherapists', 'Occupational therapists', 'Speech and Language therapists' and our group, the 'Therapists not elsewhere classified' group.

Workers in the 'Therapist' minor group, "plan and apply physical, therapeutic and other treatments or activities to assist in the physical and psychological recovery from illness and injury, and to minimise the effects of disabilities."

So, this is how the Government sees us and it means that at last we are officially recognised in the Government statistics as  'Therapists', albeit, not elsewhere classified, and Aromatherapy as an 'Associate Professional and Technical Occupation'

So, how are Aromatherapists classified in relation to other similar professions?

Osteopaths, Reflexologists and Massage Therapists are also included in the 'Therapists not elsewhere classified' section under the same major group heading.

Acupuncturists, without medical qualification are with us too. Acupuncturists with medical training are included under the major heading of 'Professional Occupations'.

So, what implications does the classification of Aromatherapists and the inclusion of our' job title in this publication have?

It brings up issues to do with the future regulation of the profession and indeed, the very definition of the job title 'Aromatherapist'.

The Standard Occupational Classifications publication is not only used as a source of identification of new occupational trends, it is also widely used to produce occupational data and analyses for all kinds of purposes.

It is utilised in all the main government data collection exercises and it is also used in the academic and research community, careers, training and Insurance worlds.

Various sources of information on the terminology of occupations and work content of jobs were used to compile the statistics for this edition of SOC. including information from the Census, the Labour force survey, Job seeker and vacancy records, queries about coding classifications from data collections within the ONS and queries from users from outside.

All manner of new "statistical records" and "comments" can now be made over the coming years to do with Aromatherapy and when Census records are taken, later in the year, It is intended that there will be a question on the Census form in relation to professional qualifications!

If we had been able to say that Statutory Regulation of Title was achievable by then, an Aromatherapist who is not qualified to the standards we aspire to, would not be included in the Occupational statistics (because 'AOC Registered' would be required to fulfill the criteria of 'Aromatherapist')

The arena of the Aromatherapist would then reflect a different, more serious picture to the general public and in future historical records.

So who/what is an Aromatherapist and where do Aromatherapists practice their' profession?

Is it someone who has completed a weekend course and now practices at the local beauty salon? 

Or does it mean people who are trained to specific standards and work in a variety of settings including work within the NHS, local hospices, GP surgeries, private practice, speciality areas etc.

It is rather scary to think that in view of the afore-mentioned criteria of a profession being included in the 'Associated Professional and Technical' major group - Criteria that any AOC affiliated Aromatherapist can fulfil, that without being able to cement this in law i.e. without achieving Statutory Regulation of Title, ANY Aromatherapist that does not meet this criteria can be included in the statistics.

As it is a fact that we are dealing with peoples' health, and as Science gradually draws nearer to recognising the clinical/medical benefits of Aromatherapy, should we not be very concerned indeed about the number of inadequately trained 'Aromatherapists' who may lead us into being added to yet another body of statistics - those of  'Adverse reactions to Essential oils' and 'Mis-treatment'?

Will the picture of Aromatherapists be a serious one, forming a legitimate part of the health services of the Nation or will those Aromatherapists, who are trained adequately, snug within their' small association affiliations, be swallowed up in big sea of a far greater number of 'Aromatherapists' so defined by our inability to unite with the process to form a definition, based on standards, and sealed by Statutory Regulation of Title.

We have not got long now, in terms of the official UK statistical records to clearly define standards for Aromatherapy - The Governments' clock has started to tick!

If we want Aromatherapy in the UK to be reflected positively in the statistics and ideas that will be formed by Sociologists and other researchers, Journalists, Labour trend reporters etc. then we need to get our 'act together' pretty quickly.

The Office of National Statistics "works in partnership with others in the government statistical service to provide parliament, government and others with statistical information, analysis and advice needed to improve their' decision making, stimulate research and inform debate".

We can see that already, certain government departments who have a view themselves to the need for our' eventual regulation must have begun seeking statistical information about us, in order to focus their' decision making processes and what information they are getting will form a major part of the debates that will be taking place.

The Aromatherapy Organisations Councils' working party for Statutory Regulation of Title is of course, already working on this.

If we are with them and if we want to see Aromatherapy have the standing it deserves, in historical, economical and reputational terms, then we need to ask ourselves one simple little question - Have we signed up to the AOC register yet?

For our own sakes and for the protection of the public.  because if we haven't, then we are inhibiting the process.

We already know that we have some difficult decisions to make, and although we currently face challenges amongst ourselves and within the entire AOC network, it is also a very exciting time because we find ourselves at a particular time in history where the future of Aromatherapy is being written as we speak.

There are many pressing issues that need to be dealt with that require Aromatherapists to unite in a more global sense (ie. upcoming EU legislation leading to possible/probable restriction of Essential oils) and as we move towards further unity with Aromatherapists from other parts of the world, we need to get our own back yard in order. (Do you suddenly want to be informed that you cannot legally use half the Essential oils that you commonly use?  or do you want to understand the urgency of the situation now and help to do something about it?)

If we are to truly honour our' fore-fathers and mothers of natural healing and walk into the official world of history bringing a competent, focused, unified image of the profession and a commitment to integrating our' natural healing skills into main-stream health-care, for the good of the nations' people, wherever we choose to work, then we should renew our' commitment to that goal and communicate this to other associations to the best of our' ability.  It needs everyone to do this.  The survival of our' profession and the perception of the nation of who we are and what we stand for as a Profession depends upon it.

Lost your' registration form?  Telephone the AOC office - 0208 251 7912

Source: The Office of Occupational Statistics Web site http://www.statistics.gov.uk/nsbase/default.asp

Kendra Kirkham (RQA member) 2000

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