How to Become a Practitioner of Holistic Health

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Holistic health professionals look beyond the scope of Western medicine to offer an approach to care that emphasizes total wellness.

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This is an exciting time to pursue a holistic health education. Many ancient healing traditions such as acupuncture, Ayurveda, and herbal medicine, are enjoying renewed popularity. Holistic healing practices that were dismissed in the past are becoming respected segments of the healthcare industry, especially as research continues to show significant benefits to patients from holistic approaches.

The change isn’t just coming from within the healthcare industry, either. People are looking to have a hand on the wheel when it comes to their health. Rather than simply taking any medications prescribed, many people want to have a bigger role in their personal wellness and treating the source of their pain or illness. This means people are looking for trained professionals to help them on their path.

What is Holistic Health?

Holistic health is an umbrella that covers a range of jobs that use an all-encompassing health philosophy to care for patients. So what does that look like?

“I define holistic health as a comprehensive approach that combines all aspects of a person’s health,” says Jennifer Bennett, ND, LAc, a naturopathic doctor and professor at Bastyr University in Seattle. “It includes physical, mental, and emotional health. It takes into consideration the roles that diet, lifestyle, sleep, environmental exposures, play. It also combines all of the areas of the body as a whole and complete system working as one, instead of singling out individual organ systems and just focusing on those.”

The American Holistic Health Association, a nonprofit that connects people to wellness resources, stresses the care of a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states in order to achieve optimal health. When one is disrupted, the others suffer as well, according to holistic health practices.

Holistic health is defined as a comprehensive approach that combines all aspects of a person’s health.

Holistic healthcare looks at the whole person, not just their physical symptoms, by focusing on how body systems work together as a unit. Rather than looking at symptoms from one body part, holistic health practitioners strive to improve the entire body.

Holistic health concepts can be used in a wide range of healthcare jobs. From surgeons to physical therapists to nurses, many healthcare professionals can incorporate total body wellness practices into patient care.  

There are also a variety of careers that fall squarely under the holistic health umbrella. You can choose to pursue a career in naturopathic medicine as an alternative to medical school education, focus on helping people succeed as a life coach, and more.

Holistic Health Versus Alternative Medicine:
What’s the Difference?

It’s easy to confuse alternative medicine and holistic health. In fact, you may have seen the terms used interchangeably. However, there is a difference.

While alternative medicine practices are often holistic in nature, holistic health is not necessarily alternative. Why? Because when alternative medicine is used, it is always used instead of standard Western medicine.

Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine is meant to be just what the name implies: an alternative to medicine.

Holistic Health

Holistic health, on the other hand, is often used as part of a treatment plan by standard medical practitioners.

For example, sometimes cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy also receive acupuncture treatments to help manage their symptoms. In this case, the acupuncture is being used alongside chemotherapy as part of a holistic treatment plan. Conversely, if a cancer patient is using acupuncture as their primary treatment and choosing not to receive chemotherapy, that would make acupuncture alternative medicine.

Holistic Health Practitioner Education

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Your holistic health education depends on the path you want to follow. Some careers will require a short certification program, while others will require a master’s or even doctoral-level education.

“Most programs require extensive training and hands-on experience,” says Bennett. “For example, the naturopathic medicine program requires a minimum of four years of a doctorate program, as well as hundreds of hours of clinical training and patient management.”

Acupuncture programs most often culminate in a master’s degree that includes three years of extensive training in acupuncture and Chinese medicine along with hundreds of hours of clinical training and patient management. Some other programs, like massage therapy, can take less than a year but still require many hours of hands-on clinical experience.

Most holistic health practitioners have knowledge in some or all of the following areas:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Nutrition and body chemistry
  • Stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Therapeutic touch and bodywork
  • Spirituality in healing
  • Natural remedies such as herbs, essential oils, and homeopathic preparations

A general holistic health certificate program will offer a cursory education on most of these topics. Depending on your interests, you will probably want to pursue deeper learning in one or more specialty areas. For example, a massage therapist will need an advanced understanding of anatomy, physiology, and massage techniques. An herbalist will learn the properties of many plants, including methods for preparation and contraindications.

Some holistic health practitioners follow an established tradition, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda. If you choose this path, you can attend a holistic health school. You’ll learn the history specific to that healing tradition, along with its diagnostic and treatment methods.

Some facets of your education will depend on the requirements of your state. While not all holistic health professions are regulated by states, many are. You’ll need to make sure that you know the rules and requirements for licensure in your specialty in your state.

Additionally, since many holistic health practitioners practice independently, even if they work in a spa or wellness center, business management skills are essential.

How Long Does It Take?

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Holistic health school programs vary widely in length and format. It is important to take the time to research your program carefully because your future clients will be very interested in your background. You will need to demonstrate that you received a solid education and earned any certifications or licenses appropriate to your work.

Depending on your focus and program choice, your holistic health training may take as little as a year or more than four years. Most programs offer a diploma or certificate. Some offer a Bachelor of Science degree in Holistic Nutrition, Natural Health, or Natural Health Studies.

Master’s degrees are also available, and you can even complete post-graduate education for a Doctor of Naturopathy, Doctor of Natural Health, or Doctor of Philosophy in Holistic Nutrition degree.

Training in holistic health can take as little as a year to more than four years, depending on the scope of the program.

What Makes a Successful Holistic Health Practitioner?

Successful holistic health practitioners usually possess the following attributes:

  • A commitment to lifelong learning
  • Curiosity and open-mindedness
  • Sensitivity and compassion
  • Good listening and communication skills
  • Highly observant and detail-oriented
  • A commitment to their own health and wellness

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in holistic health, you can choose from an enormous range of education options. You may choose to seek an integrated degree in holistic health or to specialize in a specific healing approach.

Certification and Licensing

There are many certification and licensing options in the holistic health field. Some areas of focus, such as massage therapy, require you to obtain a valid license in the state where you will practice. Other fields, such as aromatherapy, are not regulated.

Certain schools and organizations have begun offering broad and inclusive certification in holistic health. One popular option is board certification as a holistic health practitioner through the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.

Holistic Health Practitioner Salaries

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Your income as a holistic health practitioner will vary depending on your specialty, your experience, and your place of employment, along with the work that you do to earn credibility and build a strong client base. Salary information is not available for the full range of holistic health careers, but there are statistics for some career types that show how competitive incomes can be in the alternative health field. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nutritionists and dietitians can earn a median salary of $63,090 in 2020, while acupuncturist salaries reached a median of $82,420.

With hard work, skill, and determination, you can make an excellent living as a holistic health practitioner. Plus, holistic health careers have rewards beyond salary, including the priceless personal satisfaction of helping others achieve optimum health.

Holistic Health Career Outlook

People are increasingly taking an interest in their own health. While in the past people might have been content to stick with the standards of Western medicine, that’s not the case today. People around the country, and the world, are looking for new solutions to help them manage diseases, stress, and their lifestyle.

All that combined has driven a dramatic increase in the demand for holistic health practitioners. The BLS’s current Occupational Outlook Handbook expects above-average growth rates through 2029 in alternative medicine professions such as massage therapy and nutrition. Meanwhile, the salon and spa industries are booming like never before. It’s a great time to join the wellness industry.

“Interest in preventative practices, rising healthcare costs, and focus on overall health and well-being is pushing the general population more and more towards holistic healthcare,” Bennett says. “People who have not received the care that they need from conventional practitioners or who are wary of being on medications long term are looking for—and finding—answers in alternative options.”


stephanie behring

Written and Reported by:
Stephanie Behring
Contributing Writer

jennifer bennett

With professional insight from:
Jennifer Bennett, ND, LAc
Naturopath and Professor, Bastyr University