Holistic Practitioner Certification and Training Program Information
Research common licensure and certification requirements for holistic practitioners, and get essential information on the many training options. See some of the topics addressed in certificate, master's and doctoral degree programs in holistic health, and find out about some of the typical prerequisites to these programs.
The phrase 'holistic practitioner' covers a broad range of career specialties. Often these specialties are referred to as complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM. A holistic practitioner may consider all aspects of a patient's health, including emotional, spiritual, mental and physical needs, when developing a plan of treatment. Holistic practitioners may specialize in areas such as chiropractic, naturopathy, homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine.
Prerequisites vary by program type and can run the gamut from simply having a high school education to holding a bachelor's degree and have completed similar coursework. Whether it's an undergraduate certificate or degree program, students often have the opportunity to learn how to work as a holistic professional through fieldwork assignments.
The states that require licensure and/or certification differ according to the specific type of holistic practitioner, such as massage therapist or chiropractor. Students need to confirm any state requirements to ensure that they are practicing medicine legally.
Holistic Practitioner Certification Information
Some holistic health specialties have few or no certification or licensure requirements. For example, only three states have licensure requirements for homeopathic physicians, which include holding a license as either an M.D. (Medical Doctor) or a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy).
However, the District of Columbia and all 50 states have licensure requirements for chiropractors.
Some professional organizations offer certifications, which are not necessarily related to licensure requirements. Two ways to determine the legitimacy of a certification is to find out if it is accepted by a state licensing board, or accredited by the National Commission for Certification Agencies (NCCA). Below are a few of the holistic specialties that have certification opportunities or license requirements, or both:
- Diplomate in Acupuncture (NCCAOM) from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
- Diplomate of the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (DABMA), for medical or osteopathic doctors
- Required in the District of Columbia and 32 states
- Three years of specialty education
- Most states require a written exam. Some accept the NCCAOM for that exam.
- Only 16 of these states require continuing education units
- Diplomate of the American Chiropractic Neurology Board
- Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician (CCSP) from the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians (ACBSP)
- Diplomate American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physician (DACBSP), also from the ACBSP; requires a CCSP
- Required in the District of Columbia and all 50 states
- Four years of specialty education
- Every state either requires or accepts the written exam from the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE)
- States have a wide range of requirements for continuing education, but most states require chiropractors to take state-approved courses on a regular basis
Holistic health practitioner
- Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABIHM) for medical and osteopathic physicians
There are no licenses for general holistic health practitioners
- National Certification for Therapeutic Massage from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB)
- National Certification for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, also from NCBTMB
- Licensure, registration or certification is required in the District of Columbia and 39 states; in some states, cities or counties may have their own regulations
- Most commonly 500 hours of training are required; some states require up to 570 hours
- All 39 states accept the tests from NCBTMB; some also accept the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) from the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMBT)
Training Information for Holistic Practitioner
There are separate colleges and degrees for each holistic practitioner specialty. However, there are some programs that offer a more general certificate or a degree in holistic health.
Certificates in Holistic Health
There are both undergraduate and graduate certificates in holistic health. Most certificates, whether undergraduate or graduate, are primarily an overview of areas of study in holistic health. The goals most often are to lay a foundation for potential careers, or to give students a basis to make their own lifestyle changes. Program differences are more attributable to differences in schools rather than graduate versus undergraduate levels.
Undergraduate programs require a high school diploma or its equivalent. Some also expect students to have completed two years of college. Graduate programs require applicants to have earned a bachelor's degree. Some programs look for a GPA of 3.0 in the baccalaureate program. At times a program has a prerequisite introductory course in holistic health.
Programs require from 12-18 semester hours of coursework. Courses may cover:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Differences between allopathic and holistic approaches to health
- Effects of sleep, laughter, spirituality and massage on stress management
- Exploring approaches to holistic health
- Healing through meditation and awareness
- Holistic nutrition
- How to counsel as a health provider
- Relationships between health and human nature
- Using cultural traditions to aid in health and healing
- Field experience
Holistic practitioner careers are many and varied. In addition to those already mentioned, careers might include:
- Holistic nutritionist
Graduates of certificate programs can go on to earn a master's degree in holistic health. They may also choose to take a specialty course that will lead to certification or licensure.
Master's Degrees in Holistic Health
There are few master's programs for general holistic health; most programs are for specialties. However, those few give students a more complete picture of the holistic health field than is given by certificate programs. Credit is given for graduate certificate courses, shortening the time required to complete the master's program. Education prerequisites are the same as for the graduate certificate programs.
Master's degrees in holistic health require more courses, fieldwork and research than certificate programs. They will include courses offered in the certificates for the sake of new students who have not earned the certificate. The additional coursework may address:
- Ancient skills for diagnosis
- Ayurvedic medicine
- Collecting and analyzing holistic health data
- Energy fields for humans
- Healing through touch and prayer
- Holistic health research basics
- Interrelationship of the environment and human health
- Native American herbal remedies
- Women's health from a holistic viewpoint
There is no one statistical prediction for holistic practitioners. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does have data for a few of the specialties. For example, the BLS predicted that chiropractic jobs would increase by 28% from 2010-2020. For that same period, the BLS expected jobs for massage therapists to grow by 20%. Both predicted growth rates are higher than the average anticipated growth for all occupations (www.bls.gov).
Workshops, online courses and webinars are just some of the ways holistic practitioners can keep up with their field. Some practitioners may choose to begin working on a specialty program.
Doctoral Degree in Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) might be considered the epitome of holistic practitioners for two reasons. First, their practice can include all of the specialties of other holistic practitioners. Second, the profession is gaining acceptance and licensure in an ever-increasing number of states. Following a baccalaureate, the 4-year ND programs focus on non-toxic, holistic approaches to disease prevention, treatment and wellness.
In addition to completing a bachelor's degree, applicants must have had prescribed courses during their undergraduate program. Non-science courses include psychology, humanities and social sciences, as well as English and composition. Required science courses include algebra-based physics, and science-major level courses with laboratory in biology, chemistry and organic chemistry. Additional science courses are sometimes recommended.
Coursework in naturopathic medicine programs covers the same basic sciences as those covered in a traditional medical program. Additional coursework might include:
- Diagnosing orthopedic diseases and injuries
- Emergency medicine
- How normal human physical systems function
- Minor surgery
- Processes of disease
- The botanical pharmacy
- Therapeutic galvanism, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and other modalities
- Understanding therapeutic Western pharmaceuticals
- Using heat, cold and water therapeutically
In addition to working as a personal physician, naturopathic doctors have other career options. These include:
- Author or speaker on natural medicine
- Naturopathic industry consultant
- Research scientist
- Specialist in natural products
O*Net Online predicted that there would be 21,200 job openings for naturopathic physicians during the decade from 2010-2020 (online.onetcenter.org). This job growth, projected to be 10%-19%, is about the average for all occupations. In 2012, annual median wages were $72,710.
In 2010, the District of Columbia and 15 states had licensing requirements for naturopathic physicians; eight other states had legislation pending. Each of these states has its own requirements for the continuing education needed to maintain a license. Continuing education courses may be found at any of the schools of naturopathic medicine. Each state has a list of approved continuing education providers.
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