Essential Oils in OT Practice

Essential Oils can be so difficult to navigate. What does this one do? Where do I put it? You can put it on your body? IN your body? Diffusing? What’s diffusing? I GET IT. I have been using Essential Oils for 4 years personally and professionally and I still look up information daily. Yes, daily. I have my favorite recipes and uses, but there are SO MANY uses and recipes it gets difficult to keep them straight. That being said – it is so worth the effort, these products have changed my life.

I’ve teamed up with Occupational Therapists (OTs), Alexandra and Kelsey to bring you this information. We want to break down how we use essential oils for ourselves, with the children in our lives, and within our OT pediatric practice. We hope to make using oils more easy and accessible for everyone! Below are recipes and activity ideas you can use whether you are a healthcare practicioner or a parent. We will not be addressing diffuser recipes or internal consumption of oils in this post, but we would love to answer any and all questions you have if using oils in this way interests you, (contact info below!).

*This is important!* As with anything, there are contraindications and safety concerns when using essential oils. Find these at the bottom of this blog. It is very important to use essential oils safely to prevent burning and skin irritation.

A disclaimer. We use and sell Young Living Essential Oils. These are the ONLY oils we trust for ourselves, our families, and our clients. They are 100% therapeutic grade oils. Information found on this post is meant for educational and informational purposes only. Any suggestions made on this blog are very specific to Young Living Essential Oils and should not be used with oils from another source. Statements made on this website about Young Living Essential Oils have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products and information are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the FUN stuff!

How do these oils work?

First, let’s talk about the olfactory sensory system. Our olfactory system is directly linked to our limbic system. For you non-OTs, the limbic system in our brain controls our emotions — positive and negative! No wonder when we smell something specific it can take us back to our childhood and trigger emotion linked to a memory. For me, when I smell campfires I’m filled with joy and memories of camping growing up.

So what happens when this system isn’t in sync?! It’s why some of my little friends react to certain smells with a fight, flight, or freeze response. Their little brains interpret smells (typically associated with food) as harmful and can cause negative emotional (and physiological) reactions. That’s why we love to incorporate the olfactory sensory system in our treatment sessions. It helps with rewiring the limbic system’s response to smell, and can help with self-regulation, appropriate arrousal levels, attention, sleep regulation, along with many, many, many other things! how-fast-do-oils-work.jpg

NOW – how, which, when?

Let’s talk which oils, how we use them, and when.

Lemon in Waterbeads!

Lemon is alerting for kiddos and also helps with keeping the water beads “clean and fresh” with all the little hands!

Peace & Calming in Rice Bins

Adding a few drops of calming oils can help promote self- regulation for kiddos. Peace & Calming is one of our favorite emotional support blends, it has Tangerine, Orange, Ylang Ylang, Patchouli, German Chamomile, Vetiver, Cistus, Bergamot, Cassia, Davana, and Young Living’s exclusive Northern Lights Black Spruce essential oils. Other oils we love adding to rice bins are Lavender, Gentle Baby and Geneyus.

Drops of Oil on Cotton Balls

This is a great activity for older kiddos. Drops of oils onto cotton balls is great sensory exposure for kiddos! Have the kids try to guess the type of oil/smell, ask them if they like it or dislike it, how does it make them feel (i.e. calm, happy, excited), etc.


Add a few drops of oils to our favorite “play-doh” recipe (recipe below) for a fun sensory experience. Some of our favorite oils to add in: Stress Away, Lavender, Peppermint, Lemon and Orange.


Mix together:
2 cups Flour
1/2 cup salt
2 Tbsp. Cream of Tartar
2 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
•Add food coloring (optional) to 1 1/2 cups boiling water
•Slowly add in water a little at a time to dry ingredients and stir to combine until mixture is combined but still sticky
•Transfer play-doh to clean surface and knead, adding in extra flour as you go until the play- doh is no longer sticky
•Add in 10+ drops of essential oil to create a calming multi-sensory experience for the kiddos (& yourself!)

Thieves Spray

(20 drops thieves essential oil, splash of witch hazel, top off with distilled water in a 2 oz spray bottle)
△Thieves spray is an on-the-go all-purpose cleaner. Since we see many kids throughout our days, we like to spritz all of the toys before and after use. Kelsey finds the cinnamon in the Thieves oil is a nice “wake up cue” for some children and a great routine for them to know therapy is about to begin. Then doing the same thing at the end of the session can be a nice cue that therapy is “all done”. Thieves is non-toxic, smells amazing (like fall in bottle!) and cleans better than any store bought “green” cleaner. You don’t even have to wipe it off! It’s a favorite for sure and we like to keep a mini spray in our bags and a larger one in our car. Plus, Thieves cleaner is made with Thieves oil which provides the best immune support.


Geneyus is an amazing blend for working at home. This blend is from Young Living’s kid’s line. Yes, there is a special oil line just for little ones! Since we work in early intervention, most of our documentation at home. To help stay focused, add a few drops of the this blend to your diffuser or just leave the cap off near your workspace. I know many moms use & love to use this oil during homework time!

Grounding Rollerball

for use with children with neurological conditions to promote self-regulation, attention to task, and grounding.

Please refer to Dilution Chart for ratios (dependent on your rollerball container)

△Carrier Oil (coconut, jojoba)

Apply to the base of the skull (brainstem) or on big toes (if olfactory sensitive) prior to engaging in activity which requires attention, grounding, and self-regulation. Clients have found success with the application of this oil prior to leaving for school, and after recess to increase self-regulation and attention.

General Oil Uses

△Lavender either in a spray on blankets or lovies, or in a roller for feet and wrists to be used as a cue for nap and bedtime.

Arousal & Attention
△Peppermint (diluted)
△Lemon (indoors only due to increase photosensitivity)
△Use a rollerball blend of Lavender, Cedarwood, and Orange to increase focus
and attention, as well as bringing back to a calm state if they have become overstimulated. Apply to the back of neck, down the spine, and at wrists. Tell the kiddo this is to help their brain super charge and work really hard if they try too! 

△Copaiba – apply a drop at the base of their neck or use a diluted rollerball to apply to their neck and down their spine.

Immune Support
△Thieves (a blend of clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, & rosemary)

△Copaiba – Can be applied directly to the gums or jawline to reduce inflammation

Gastrointestinal Issues
△Digizegreat for kiddos with feeding concerns, troubling going, and general GI issues. Use a diluted roller ball at night directly to and around the belly buttom, paired with a light massage.

Diluting Oilssafety-guidelines-infographic-2017

Safety Considerations

  • Always gain consent from caregiver if your client is under 18 years old.
  • Always discuss what essential oils are with the child’s parents and why you think they may be beneficial.
  • Ensure there are no allergies to carrier oils (low risk carrier oils include coconut or
  • Always test a small patch of skin and monitor for response before using them in treatment.
    • If a skin irritation occurs, Do Not rub water on the area. This will cause the oil to spread. Apply any carrier oil to the area; this will allow oil to be absorbed and decrease the irritation within minutes.
  • Essential oils are very concentrated substances and should be diluted before applying them to the skin. You can Dilute them with carrier oils suchs as coconut oil.
  • Phototoxic oils are essential oils that, if applied before sun exposure, can cause the skin to burn or darken at a faster rate. Angelica root, bergamot, lemon, lime, ginger, mandarin, orange and grapefruit are all phototoxic.
  • Keep essential oils away from your eyes. If contact occurs, rinse with a neutral oil, and then follow with water.


Epilepsy – avoid stimulating essential oils such as: sage, sweet fennel, hyssop, eucalyptus, rosemary. Some oils that are safe: lavender, marjoram.

High Blood Pressure – avoid oils that will increase circulation and adrenaline: rosemary, peppermint, hyssop, thyme, eucalyptus and sage.

Low Blood Pressure – avoid oils that are overly sedating clary sage, ylang ylang, and lavender in very high doses.

Babies & Children under 5 yrs – Keep dosages down to 1% essential oils per dilution. Avoid the following essential oils: aniseed, basil, camphor, cinnamon bark, clove bud, clove leaf, eucalyptus radiata fennel, hyssop, juniper, lemongrass, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, parsley seed, peppermint (under 12), pennyroyal, sage, savory, tagetes and thyme. Find the rasy drop to oz dilution ratios in the chart above.

In-session tips and Tricks from the EO OTs:

  • “Personally, I do not diffuse oils during OT sessions. I just add them into my practice in simple ways! I do not see it as any different than using those crazy toxic scented marker or playdoh.” – Alexandra, MA, OTR/L
  • “Many times with a very active child I’ll begin our session with a lot of movement and proprioceptive input, and before we sit down to focus on our structured activity for the day, I’ll let them choose between Lavender or Cedarwood to help bring them to a calm state before proceeding with a more challenging task. We will either smell it directly from the bottle or I will place a drop in my hands and share with them by rubbing our hands together, and then taking deep breaths into our hands before we start.” –Kelsey , MS OTR/L CLC
  • “I love the grounding rollerball for my kiddos who have trouble with self-reguation and attenion. We put it on prior to our session, or the parents would apply it before I arrive or before they head off to school. My kiddos with neurological conditions really react well to a small amount of the grounding roller ball applied to their braintem or big toes. Some of my kiddos were really adverse to the smell being so close to their nose, so we use reflexology points to apply them to the feet. This way the smell is in their shoes, but we are still getting the amazing and powerful effects of these oils.” – Leah, COTA, OTDS
  • “Some children have rollers I’ve made them in their backpacks at school or home, and it’s a fun fine motor and ADL activity to have them work on taking off their socks and shoes, unscrewing the roller top, applying to each foot, and then putting the top back on. Depending on the day we’ll put shoes and socks back on then, or wait until the end of the session.” – Kelsey, MS OTR/L CLC
  • With lower-arousal children, I love to use Peppermint and Lemon to
    help wake up their senses and increase their awareness of the
    environment. (Lemon is a photosensitive oil so I never use this if
    we’re playing outside!). Depending on the age of the child I will
    either let them choose which they want that day or if they aren’t at a
    level of making choices, I will use a roller with very diluted
    Peppermint on the back of their neck and on their wrists. Many times
    just that little sensation will help bring them up to a state of
    alertness, and then I’ll follow up with lots of movement play and
    excited singing/dancing to help regulate them.” – Kelsey A. Baker, MS OTR/L CLC

A little bit about our authors:

Kelsey, MS OTR/L CLC

Early Intervention in the Philadelphia area. Her go-to oils include: Thieves, Landear, Copiba, Peppermint, Lemon, Cinnamin, and Digize. She enjoys utilizing essential oils in her practice because she has found that, “using essential oils not only provides regulation, arousal, and mood supports, but also aids in transitions as it gives the children a cue of what’s to come, and also engages their limbic systems in a new way. I love when they ask for oils and choose a different one than usual, it helps clue me in on how their feeling that day, too.” You can connect with her on her Instagram page, @baldwin.wellbeing


Pediatric COTA with focus in Early Intervention and neurological conditions in the Denver area. Her go-to oils include: the Grounding Rollerball, Valor, Lemon, Thieves oil (and santizing products) Digize, Release, and Lavender. You can find her connect with her via email at or on her Instagram page, @lifesoccupations.

Alexandra, MA, OTR/L

Pediatric occupational therapist. “A year ago I started my oily wellness journey! Shortly after getting my oil starter kit I decided I wanted to share more about how I use them in my OT practice, my everyday life and other random life and wellness musings! Soon after I started my Instagram (@otandoils) and it has been SO fun to connect with others and share about the two things I am passionate about (ot & oils..duh!). You can connect with her via email at or on her Instagram page, @otandoils.

If you are interested in getting any essential oils or learning more follow along on Instagram, send us an email. We would LOVE to talk to you more about how they’ve impacted our own lives and how you can get started too! Everyone is welcome!

Photos sourced from: Alexandra and
Contradictactions and disclaimer sourced from: Yound Living Essential Oils and

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