Micheline Arcier - What makes a pioneer? Article written by Germaine Rich, August 2013
Micheline Arcier has often been described as “one of the pioneers of modern aromatherapy” alongside Dr. Jean Valnet and Marguerite Maury. Uniquely Madame Arcier worked with both Valnet and Maury, creating an extraordinary link between two strands of aromatherapy.
A highly decorated officer in the French army, Dr. Valnet pioneered the use of essential oils for the treatment of medical conditions. He initially experienced the criticism and challenges that pioneers often attract by swimming against the tide of conventional thinking and practice. Through many years of laboratory experimentation the scientific evidence supporting his case-study work became so compelling that Dr. Valnet finally achieved the respect his perseverance deserved.
Marguerite Maury is also a name well-known to aromatherapists for incorporating the use of essential oils in massage. She spent many years studying a variety of complementary modalities before her attention became focussed on essential oils. Most particularly she explored the potentials of combining essential oils in a specialised massage, using various techniques to support the nervous system and promote general well-being.
It was at one of Marguerite Maury’s seminars in the late 1950’s that Micheline Arcier first met her, was then trained by her and shortly afterwards became Marguerite Maury’s assistant, working for her for three years in her London Clinic.
Inevitably, Madame Arcier became aware of Dr. Valnet’s work and was fascinated and inspired by his books. When she set up her own Knightsbridge clinic she decided that she must meet Valnet and arranged an appointment at his flat in Paris. She later recalled that she had visualized an elderly man with a grey beard so was surprised to find a stocky, balding man about her own age. In fact their early lives had been very similar in rural France, both being highly influenced by grandmothers who created herbal remedies passed from generation to generation.
This was the beginning of a long and productive association. At a lecture given for the IFA in April 1996 Madame Arcier gave a full account of her early experiences of working with essential oils and paid tribute to both Marguerite Maury and Dr. Valnet. “As much as I owe a tremendous amount to Madame Maury for having introduced me to aromatherapy, I should thank her all my life, because this has been my life, Dr Valnet also has been tremendously helpful to me. He was such a tremendous character that it was a great privilege to know him.”
My own experience of meeting Dr. Valnet was when he came to Madame Arcier’s Clinic in London to treat some of our clients for conditions which were beyond our scope as non-medically qualified aromatherapists. I was working as one of Mdme. Arcier's assistants and have a lovely memory of Dr. Valnet wishing me a happy 25th birthday, of course with a kiss, and commenting that he was exactly twice my age!
He was indeed extraordinarily dynamic and on his visits to London he and Madame Arcier would talk about their work into the small hours, so in harmony with each others thoughts that they often had no need to finish sentences. Their passion for their work was so well aligned that they collaborated on a book outlining their work together, sadly unpublished.
Arcier and Valnet shared an enthusiasm for aromatic baths, and Valnet wrote “For the prevention or cure of a multitude of illnesses, aromatic baths should always be borne in mind. They also help preserve or restore suppleness, healthy tissues, nervous equilibrium, strength and beauty.” The pungent fragrance of the bath blends on “blending days” in the Clinic remains with me over thirty years later. In 2001 Madame Arcier was greatly honoured to be awarded a Royal Warrant from HRH the Prince of Wales for her bath oils.
Madame Arcier was also very appreciative when made a Fellow of the IFA. She had never been a “committee person”, but her support for the aims of the infant IFA were significant because her status and authority was widely acknowledged amongst her peers, clients and patrons.
To what extent was Micheline Arcier a pioneer of aromatherapy?
It may be hard for younger aromatherapists to realize that in the 1960’s when Arcier established her clinic, the term “aromatherapy” was largely unknown and there were no aromatherapy schools, courses or internet to provide easy information. One had to scavenge for scraps of information about essential oils, most of which was in French. It wasn’t until over a decade later that Tisserand wrote the first book in English about aromatherapy. So the clinic in Knightsbridge, specializing in aromatherapy was groundbreaking and highly regarded by the movers and shakers of the day. By the force of her personality, her vision and professionalism Micheline Arcier gave status and credibility to aromatherapy.
As we have seen she not only drew her knowledge from both Maury and Valnet but in the late 1960’s she was almost certainly the first aromatherapist to work alongside a medical practitioner in the treatment of her clients. Long before the term holistic became commonplace, both Valnet and Arcier were advocating this approach and Valnet described the clientele at the Knightsbridge clinic as being “treated with brilliance and authority by Mdme. Micheline Arcier”.
Micheline Arcier developed the techniques that Maury had collated into her treatment to reflect her observations on its’ effects and the developing expectations of clients. But the heart of the treatment Arcier developed remains true to it’s origins in it’s focus on the autonomic nervous system and the energetic dimension. For many years Madame Arcier taught this technique to students from around the world and profoundly influenced the many therapists who worked in her clinics over a period of almost 50 years. And in doing so, I believe she can truly be called a pioneer of what has become known as the “English” tradition of aromatherapy.
In the 1970’s Madame Arcier became a follower of the philosopher and master Mikhael Aivanhov whose teaching strongly influenced her understanding of people, the importance of the energetic harmony of the therapist and the value of spiritualising even the most mundane of everyday activities.
Through this influence she added a significant dimension to her work by insisting on the highest standards of dedication and nothing less than complete commitment from her therapists. Assistants were expected to be disciplined in their lifestyle and constantly alert to their personal energy as this would in turn affect the quality of treatment. Being prepared for treating clients meant following a healthy diet, spending time in meditation or reflection, and avoidance of late nights and leisure activities which might unbalance subtle energies and affect treatments.
Whilst this may sound austere, it was so much part of an enthusiastic engagement with the work that for many of her assistants it became true to say, as it was for Madame Arcier, that aromatherapy was their life. Constantly learning and seeking to understand more of the complexities of the work, she put the passion into CPD. As she said aged 73 “I’m very much at the beginning of things and this is what I find exciting about the work”
If a pioneer is one who ventures into unexplored territories, experimenting and developing new pathways for others to follow, then truly Micheline Arcier was a pioneer. By drawing together and carrying forward the influences of both Valnet and Maury, by the standards she set in her ground-breaking clinic, her influence on many second generation aromatherapists and by her vision and authority, Micheline Arcier earned her place as one of the three most influential aromatherapy pioneers alongside Valnet and Maury.
“Be prepared, work hard, be well qualified, support the Federation.”
Micheline Arcier, IFA lecture April 1966