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How to become a practitioner of holistic health

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

a holistic health practitioner massaging the sinuses of a client that is laying down

Interested in looking beyond the scope of Western medicine to offer an approach to care that emphasizes total wellness? Holistic health practitioners, sometimes referred to as holistic healers, are professionals who consider all aspects of an individual’s health and well-being—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Their approach to the treatment and prevention of illnesses is a more integrated one. Through the use of bodywork, nutrition, herbs, mindfulness, and other healthful practices, holistic medicine adherents combine traditional and alternative therapies to help their clients achieve optimal health and balance in life.

It’s an exciting time to consider becoming a holistic health practitioner, as people are looking to have a hand on the wheel when it comes to their health. The BLS’s current Occupational Outlook Handbook expects above-average growth rates through 2032 in alternative medicine professions such as massage therapy, who expect a 18.3% growth rate, and nutritionists, who predict a 6.6% job growth rate.

What is holistic health?

Holistic health is an approach to wellness that focuses on the person as a whole, rather than just on specific symptoms or conditions. It recognizes that all aspects of a person’s life, including emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, environmental, and physical, are interconnected and can affect their overall health and well-being.

In holistic health, the individual is an active participant in the healing processes and health decisions, striving to achieve optimal health through balance and harmony within these different aspects of their life. The American Holistic Health Association, a nonprofit that connects people to wellness resources, stresses that when one of these aspects is disrupted, the others suffer as well, according to holistic health practices.

A holistic health practitioner defines what she does

jennifer bennett

“I define holistic health as a comprehensive approach that combines all aspects of a person’s health,” said 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, and environmental exposures, at 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.”

“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 said. “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.”

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, 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 an alternative medicine.

Benefits of becoming a holistic health practitioner

There are many potential benefits to becoming a holistic health practitioner, the following ones may give you a better understanding of the role you can play in people’s lives with this exciting career path.

  • Build leadership skills: Work with a wide range of clients, including individuals, families, and communities, to promote health and illness prevention. Become a leader in your community, setting an example and living a healthy lifestyle encompassing holistic health values and teachings.
  • Positively impact and connect with others: Help others improve their physical, emotional, and mental well-being through holistic approaches and experience their transformations firsthand. When it comes to disease prevention and rehabilitation, clinical evidence shows that holistic health practitioners are a part of an effective long-term solution.
  • Flexibility in practice: Enjoy a career path that may allow you to choose your own practice setting, such as a private clinic, a hospital, or a community center. Enjoy flexibility in your approach to finding factors preventing individuals from reaching their goals, by examining the person’s life as a whole.
  • Well-rounded knowledge: Holistic health practices are often combined and thus a practitioner is exposed to inter-disciplinary knowledge throughout their career. A curious professional can seize the opportunity to become a well-rounded practitioner, capable of offering tailored services versus a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
  • Job satisfaction: Contribute to the growing demand for alternative and complementary healthcare services. Generally speaking, holistic health practitioners are passionate about what they do. Gratification may come from watching clients reach their wellness goals, reduce their dependency on medication, reduce their risk of diabetes, or lose weight among many others.
  • Prevention not prescription: Use a variety of natural techniques to address the whole person rather than just their symptoms. Practitioners of holistic medicine are not anti-medicine, instead, they believe that preventing health issues ahead of time is more sustainable than medicating for them down the road.
  • Generous income: The field of holistic medicine is conducive to entrepreneurship, and many holistic practitioners start their own businesses or work as independent contractors. 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. Our holistic health salaries guide is a good resource for more in-depth information on the salaries within the industry.
  • Improve your own health: Your own mind, body, and spirit may benefit from all the knowledge and experience you gain along the way. From stress management techniques to healthy eating practices and maintaining energy levels, holistic health practitioners absorb an abundance of knowledge on the way to helping others live healthier, more fulfilled lives.

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 western healthcare industry, especially as research continues to show significant benefits to patients from holistic approaches.

Steps to becoming a holistic health practitioner

Determine your focus area within holistic health

woman watching the beautiful sunset from atop a hill

Types of holistic practitioners
As a field of practice, holistic medicine draws from various disciplines, religions, and cultures to promote overall health and well-being for people, communities, and even environmental surroundings.

It combines the use of traditional medical systems, manipulative and body-based approaches, mind-body-spirit interventions, biological-based and energy-based therapies.

This may involve a range of practices, such as:
» naturopathy,
» nutrition,
» chiropractic,
» biofeedback,
» acupuncture,
» acupressure,
» Ayurveda,
» herbal medicine,
» meditation,
» guided imagery,
» life coaching,
» Reiki (and other energy therapies),
» midwifery,
» massage therapy,
» holistic skin care, and others.

Holistic health is an umbrella that covers the above practices. Choosing the one most suitable for you requires research into the education, training, and experience commitments for each.

Which type of modality is most suitable for you?
Consider your personal interests, skills, and values, as well as any previous experience you may have in holistic medicine (though not required). Think about what areas of health and wellness you are most passionate about and feel the most drawn to.

It can also be extremely helpful to speak with a mentor or a seasoned holistic health practitioner while exploring different areas of focus through internships, workshops, or other learning opportunities.

Acquire the necessary education and training

two female holistic health students staring at an open book and a laptop

Your holistic health education will depend on the path you want to follow. Some careers may require a short certification program, while others may require a bachelor’s, master’s, or even doctoral-level education. Earning a degree in a related field such as nursing, public health, or health sciences, can provide a strong health and wellness foundation and help prepare you for further education and training.

“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 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, acupuncture, and bodywork
🕮 Yoga and spirituality in healing
🕮 Natural remedies, 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. You’ll learn the history specific to that healing tradition, along with its diagnostic and treatment methods. Additionally, since many holistic health practitioners practice independently, even if they work in a spa or wellness center, business management skills are essential.

Obtain any necessary licenses or certifications

woman smiling in front of a university stairs holding her certificate in a tube

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’re familiar with your state’s rules and requirements for licensure with regard to your specialty.

There are many certifications 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.

Gain experience in the field of holistic health

a holistic health practitioner crushing and mixing herbs on a table

Getting first-hand experience is pivotal for success in holistic health. There are several ways to dive in and start your training, depending on your specific goals and interests. Some options include:

Volunteer or internships: Many holistic health centers and clinics offer opportunities for aspiring practitioners to work shadow or work alongside experienced professionals. Interns learn how each system of the body (hormonal, musculoskeletal, endocrine, neurological, etc.) is interconnected and interdependent.

Participate in workshops and training programs: These can range from a single-day event to weeks-long training. Learn new skills and gain practical experience in the field alongside other holistic medicine enthusiasts. Examples include workshops on gut health, the link between stress and IBS, and reducing inflammation through diet, among others.

Work as a part-time assistant: Some centers and clinics may hire part-time workers at assistant-level positions to help with administrative tasks or to assist practitioners during appointments. Depending on your schedule, this can be a great way to get paid to learn from experienced practitioners.

Shadow a holistic health practitioner: Many practitioners are willing to allow those interested in the field to shadow them. You may gain valuable insight into the day-to-day work and routines of a holistic professional and better understand if the field of practice is something you’d like to pursue further.

Practicum or clinical experience: Some holistic health programs or schools may offer a practicum as part of their curriculum. Typically a supervised clinical experience in which you’ll have the opportunity to work with clients and apply the knowledge and skills you are meant to learn.

Find a job or start building your practice

a holistic health practitioner applying elbow pressure and cupping therapy to patient

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.

Whether your goal is to increase your chances of finding a job or building your own holistic health practice, there are several steps you can take (in addition to online job boards). A few key examples include:

🤝 Building a professional network: Consider joining professional organizations, attending conferences or workshops, or networking online. Offering your services, collaborating, and providing value to others for the sake of giving back to the community is a good way to attract new opportunities and business.

💻 Building your online presence: Connect with potential clients and other practitioners while increasing your reach via social media, a personal website or blog, and joining online directories or forums. Market your services to a significantly larger community and reach people in their e-mail inboxes, text messages, social media feeds, and search engines.

The availability of job opportunities in the field of holistic health may vary depending on your location and your specialization. Job openings may not always be advertised publicly, reaching out directly to private practices and local wellness centers may keep you top of mind for current and or future opportunities.

Continually educate and improve yourself

woman laying down on a leather sofa and reading a book to increase her knowledge

In order to provide the best care possible to their clients, holistic health practitioners seek out learning opportunities long after graduation day.

Ways to continuously improve include:
✓ staying current on the latest research and holistic techniques,
✓ taking continuing education courses to improve your skills
✓ collaborating with other practitioners,
✓ discovering developments in the field via conferences and workshops,
✓ joining professional associations,
✓ seeking out mentors and being open to learning from others.

Though a very hands-on field, holistic health requires a great deal of reading to truly understand the theory behind the practice. In some cases, the learning is mandatory, as many practitioners are required to complete a set amount of continuing education hours each year in order to maintain their license or certification.

How long does it take to become a practitioner?

Programs vary widely in length and format. Depending on your focus and program choice, your holistic health training may take as little as a year or more than four years. Specific requirements can vary by state.

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.

It is important to take the time to research your program carefully because your future clients may 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.

What makes a successful holistic health practitioner?

By focusing on how bodily systems work together as a unit, rather than looking at symptoms from one body part, holistic health practitioners strive to improve the person as a whole.

But the approach you take can be just as important as the results. Becoming a successful practitioner requires a combination of education, training, and personal qualities, including:

  • 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
  • A commitment to lifelong learning and professionalism
  • Ability to adapt to new situations and challenges
  • Marketing and business skills (especially for the self-employed)

Take action

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 necessarily the case today. People around the country, and the world, are looking for new solutions to help them manage diseases, stress, and their lifestyle.

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 manage diseases, stress, and their lifestyle.

If you’re passionate about helping others improve their physical and emotional well-being using natural and complementary approaches, take the first step to your new career by using our widget to browse our database of holistic health schools and programs.

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