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Explore a Career in Holistic Health

Holistic health practices are becoming more mainstream, resulting in increased opportunities for those interested in the study of whole-body care.

person on rocky shore looking at city across the water
person on rocky shore looking at city across the water

From acupuncture and Ayurvedic medicine to massage therapy and nutrition counseling, holistic health careers are on the rise. A quick look at the news or social media shows that many people are increasingly interested in wellness and seeking out care that goes beyond a standard office visit. What was once seen as a fringe philosophy is also getting more respect from Western medicine. Together, these factors have brought holistic health into the mainstream.

5 Popular Careers in Holistic Health

“More and more states are starting to increase scope and licensure for holistic practitioners, and more mainstream institutions are starting to bring in practitioners as part of their care team to provide more comprehensive approaches to their patients’ conditions,” says Jennifer Bennett, ND, LAc, a naturopath and professor at Bastyr University. “Increased scope of insurance coverage is also helping (elevate) trust in these modalities.”

All that growth makes now a great time to get started on a holistic health career.

What Does a Career in Holistic Health Look Like?

Holistic health isn’t one specific career. Rather, it’s an overarching philosophy of treatment and patient care. Holistic health careers span a wide range. You could select a career that focuses on a specific treatment method, like massage therapy and acupuncture. If you’re looking to provide care on a broader scope, you could practice natural medicine as a naturopath.

No matter which holistic health career you choose, you’ll be guided by the same principles. All holistic health practices approach care from a mindset that includes:

  • Treating the whole person and not just the illness or symptom
  • Focusing on how all the parts of the body work together in treating patients
  • Recognizing how mental health, lifestyle, and environment influence physical health
  • Helping patients advocate for their own health

In short, holistic health is healthcare that looks at a person rather than a diagnosis.

Holistic Health Careers: Beyond Western Medicine

Careers in holistic health and Western medicine are based on different practices.

Western medical careers are focused on standard medical practices that treat diseases and symptoms with very specific modalities and methods associated with Western medicine. Some people are put off by the busy, clinical nature of more mainstream Western treatment paths.

Holistic health careers, on the other hand, allow practitioners to focus on the whole person. They can develop treatments that are specific to the person in front of them, often incorporating measures that address a person’s mental and spiritual health, in addition to their physical health.

Both careers allow practitioners to help people live better, healthier lives. The right path for you comes down to the philosophies that you want to guide your patient care, and the type of care you want to provide.

Typical Career Paths and Workplaces

There are a lot of options when it comes to working in the field of holistic health. While you can use holistic practices in just about any healthcare role, several careers are more holistic in nature than others. These are the jobs you probably think of when you think of holistic health.

If you’re looking to make holistic health your focus, rather than incorporating it into a more mainstream healthcare career, consider one of these options.

Acupuncturist

What you’ll do

Use specialized needles or pressure at specific points on the body to promote healing, reduce pain, and improve overall health

Degree you need

Master’s or doctorate

Where you can work

  • Private practice
  • Holistic clinics
  • Integrative health centers
  • Wellness centers

Ayurvedic Practitioner

What you’ll do

Provide whole body treatments using cleansing, guided meditation, and herbal remedies

Degree you need

Master’s

Where you can work

  • Private practice
  • Holistic clinics

Energy Healer

What you’ll do

Use crystal healing, sound therapy, or radiation to help align chakras and other body energies for improved health and wellness

Degree you need

Associate’s or bachelor’s

Where you can work

  • Private practice
  • Wellness centers

Herbalist

What you’ll do

Assess patients and prescribe and make herbal remedies to treat pain, disease, and more

Degree you need

Bachelor’s

Where you can work

  • Private practice
  • Holistic clinics

Life Coach

What you’ll do

Help clients along their life paths by giving them tools and strategies to use in their careers, relationships, and everyday life

Degree you need

Certificate or bachelor’s

Where you can work

  • Private practice

Massage Therapist

What you’ll do

Use a variety of techniques to help patients get pain relief by massaging muscle groups and trigger points.

Degree you need

Certificate or associates

Where you can work

  • Private practice
  • Chiropractors’ offices
  • Integrative health centers
  • Wellness centers
  • Spas

Midwife

What you’ll do

Provide care during pregnancy and help safely deliver infants

Degree you need

Depending on the type of midwife you want to be, master’s, certification, or training program

Where you can work

  • Private practice
  • Birthing centers
  • Hospitals
  • Private homes

Naturopath

What you’ll do

Provide holistic primary care that includes diagnosing patients, prescribing herbal remedies, and performing treatments

Degree you need

Doctorate

Where you can work

  • Private practice
  • Holistic clinics

Nutritionist

What you’ll do

Educate patients on how diet can affect their health and help them develop healthy eating plans

Degree you need

Bachelor’s or master’s

Where you can work

  • Private practice
  • Wellness centers
  • Integrative health centers

Can Western Medicine Practitioners Incorporate Holistic Practices?

three flat round stones stacked on rippled sand surface

Western Medicine practitioners can absolutely incorporate holistic practices into their patient care. In fact, this is becoming increasingly common. More holistic practices are being used in primary care offices and other Western medical facilities all the time. You might see this referred to as “complementary” or “integrative” medicine.

This can work in a variety of ways. For example, a psychologist might use hypnotherapy to help a patient deal with a traumatic memory, a physical therapist might use the Alexander Technique to help a patient improve their posture, and a chiropractor might use massage therapy to help a patient attain greater pain relief.

Plus, holistic methods are often used to help improve general wellness and to treat specific conditions such as:

  • Pain associated with cancer or other illness
  • Infertility
  • Reproductive or gynecologic disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Emotional and mental health disorders

Brittany Ferri, a New York-based occupational therapist who routinely incorporates holistic treatments into her practice and has authored a textbook on the subject, says these complementary practices add significant value to overall care.

“Holistic methods can increase patient engagement, optimize patient outcomes, and boost treatment compliance,” Ferri says. “These also empower patients to take a more active role in managing and maintaining their health condition so they can live fuller, more productive lives.”

Holistic Health: Moving into the Mainstream

The rise of holistic practice is particularly notable among cancer patients. People with cancer are increasingly using holistic methods to help address pain, nausea, and other symptoms. In fact, recent studies have found that one-third to one-half of cancer patients in the United States use some form of holistic care as part of their cancer treatment.

Holistic Health and Telemedicine:
Can They Work Together?

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Telemedicine is an increasingly popular method of delivering patient care. Using telehealth, providers—including those offering holistic care—can reach patients without the need for an office visit. This can be especially helpful in rural areas where patients might not have access to health providers. While it might not seem like hands-on holistic techniques are a match for telemedicine, they actually can be.

“While many holistic health practices, such as acupuncture and massage therapy, cannot be done via telehealth, there are many other self-management techniques that are perfectly suited for a telehealth model,” says Ferri. “Providers can guide individuals through yoga sequences, Reiki, meditations, reflexology, and other modalities virtually. There are even some substitutes for modalities like acupuncture and massage therapy, as therapists can lead interactive sessions teaching individuals self-massage techniques to relieve certain accessible pain points.”

At Home Holistic Health

Acupuncturists may be able to teach patients how to stimulate certain parts of their meridians, or energy pathways, using pressure from their hand. This is an alternative form of acupuncture that does not use needles, called acupressure. While the substitutes for these modalities are not ideal in the long-term, they can help individuals play an active role in managing some of their symptoms at home.

What Can I Earn?

With so many different careers under the holistic health umbrella, there are a wide range of salaries in the field. Your specific holistic health career, along with your experience, employer, and client base, can all make a huge impact on your salary.

Licensing and Certification

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You’ll need to make sure you’ve explored required licenses and certifications before you begin your holistic health practice. They’re required for many holistic health careers in most states, but not all.

Whether or not it’s required, certification can show your future clients that you’re a trusted professional who can provide safe and effective care. Certification will depend on the career path you choose. In most cases, you’ll need to submit proof of your education and pass an exam before you can be certified.

Education

Your holistic health education will depend on the career path you want to take. Some paths, like massage therapy, can be completed very quickly. You can earn a massage therapy certification in as little as a few weeks or choose to spend two years earning an associate degree.

Other career paths can take a much longer investment in your education. Naturopaths, for example, need to have doctoral degrees and programs are very competitive.

No matter what path you take, it’s important to make sure that your program is accredited and will allow you to practice in your state. Not all states regulate all holistic health careers, but many do. In addition to state regulations, you need to make sure your education will allow you to apply for any certification your holistic health field offers.


Written and Reported by:
Stephanie Behring
Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

jennifer bennett

Jennifer Bennett, ND, LAc
Naturopath and Professor, Bastyr University

brittany ferri

Brittany Ferri, MS, OTR/L, CPRP
Holistic Occupational Therapist