Massage has probably been used in various forms to comfort and heal for as long as the human race has existed. It is instinctive for a mother to comfort her baby by massaging or cuddling it, or for a parent to massage the area of pain in older children. It is doubtful that we can ever dispense with the need to be touched by others in some way and therapeutic massage is certainly one of these ways.

Similarly, herbs have been used for medicinal purposes by all societies for many thousands of years. It is therefore reasonable to put the essential plant oils used in aromatherapy in the same general rubric as herbalism.

The author of this excellent book on massage and aromatherapy is neither a professional masseur nor a prescriber of essential oils, but enjoys being a recipient of regular massage.

The book aims to give all health professionals a balanced and independent overview of massage and aromatherapy. It is written for practitioners and students of massage and aromatherapy, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, osteopaths, GP’s and individuals working in mental health, AIDS and cancer care.

Vickers states that his aims were to cover those areas that have up till now been poorly covered by the literature. (Previous books on massage and particularly aromatherapy have been aimed at both the public and the practitioner and range from the ‘do-it-yourself’ manuals for the lay public to the idiosyncratic and sometimes unsubstantiated claims of experienced practitioners. These books have generally been low on scientific evidence in spite of the fact that a large body of data does exist.)

This is an extremely well-structured book. It is divided into three main sections Introduction, Practice, and Management with an epilogue, appendices, comprehensive references, and full subject and author indices. Every chapter has a concise summary outlining advantages and disadvantages, and quoting proven studies. Vickers admirably succeeds in meeting his objectives, organising the material as follows:

* Scientific research in massage and aromatherapy
Over 500 papers are referenced and several are critically examined. Vickers has a responsible attitude to research methodology, and is consistently vigilant in developing his critique. He refers to clinical studies, books, papers, journals, training courses, correspondence and explains why he does not tolerate anecdotal evidence, nor inconsistent research or opinions. For example, it is important to make a distinction between the fact that there is good evidence that massage can affect local and systemic blood flow but there is no data to show that it can alter hormone or enzyme levels.

* The use of therapies in medical settings
This includes primary care, midwifery, mental health, hospice care, intensive care, and care of the health professional. In his quest to represent every angle fairly, Vickers leaves no stone unturned. He includes a special chapter on disability, with a further ten pages on paediatric disability. Health care professionals can access sections on cancer, AIDS, challenging behaviour, premature babies, or self-image – and find out how clinical studies have proven, or not, the efficacy of massage and aromatherapy in these areas.

* The knowledge base of massage and aromatherapy
His tabulated section on unsubstantiated claims in the field is at once eye-opening, frightening and often hilarious. For example he quotes an author who claims that ‘Syphilitic sores and chancres are cured by the application of deterpenated essence of lavender.’ Such a claim made in 1980 (sic) is enough to send a shiver down the spine of any doctor and make Fleming turn in his grave, having discovered the drug that was able to treat the previously incurable plague of syphilis!

* Professional and managerial issues
Vickers states that he is concerned to improve professional standards and accountability procedures and in order to do this, he has developed a critical and rigorous discourse.

* Safety
The final chapter covers this important aspect well and is essential reading for all practitioners.

In the Appendix Vickers recommends various books on the subject and gives a short review of their contributions to the literature. With so much available, this is useful guidance from a writer whose discrimination is more workmanlike than overtly critical.

This book deserves to be on the required reading list of every training course in massage and aromatherapy. Hopefully it will help raise the standard of both the training and practice in these growing areas of treatment. Massage will never disappear as an important therapeutic intervention and the author knows this subjectively as a recipient of the art, and objectively as an astute reader of the available literature and data.

Doctors and practitioners of other therapies may find such a comprehensive critique of the field a bit dense, but they too can benefit by at least reading the succinct summaries at the end of each chapter, written in an easily digested ‘bullet point’ style.

In summary – an essential textbook for any health professional or lay person who would like a clear, concise, well-balanced overview of massage and aromatherapy.

Review by Dr Brian Kaplan MBBCh MFHom.
July 1996


Massage and Aromatherapy: A Guide for Professionals
by Andrew Vickers

Published: Nelson Thornes Ltd. New edition 1996
ISBN: 978-0748740291