Holistic Medicine Schools: Degree Types & Requirements
Now is a great time to earn the holistic health schooling you need to succeed and put ancient healing methods into modern practice.
Holistic medicine and care are becoming more and more accepted by those who receive—and provide—healthcare services. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that more than half of office-based physicians recommended holistic and alternative treatments to their patients.
As holistic health continues to gain respect and expand its reach, the number of jobs in the field is expanding, too. In fact, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a massive 20% job growth for massage therapists by 2031, a rate that’s much faster than the national average.
Show me the money: As more people embrace natural healing schools and approaches, the employment opportunities may grow for this field. Visit our holistic health practitioner salaries page to see the current industry earning figures.
Holistic health schools focus on teaching students how to promote wellness through natural methods. Students also learn how to treat illnesses naturally or in conjunction with Western medicine.
Community spirit, diversity, and empowerment are often overarching themes on campus. The notion of the mind, body, and spirit working together is at the core of any school’s curriculum. In some holistic health programs, students are also taught business skills so they can work in private practice.
Holistic Health School: What Can I Expect to Learn?
Your search for the right holistic health school will be guided by the type of holistic medicine practitioner you hope to be. Do you dream of dispensing medicinal herbs? Is midwifery your true calling?
Some schools offer a long list of holistic medicine degrees and certificates for a number of practices while others focus on one or two areas of study, such as massage therapy or acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Types of Holistic Health Schools
Natural healing schools share a common bond of educating others in the practice of natural, non-toxic, and sustainable treatments. However, each school offers its own approach to teaching based on its mission and aim. Below you’ll find a summary of different types of holistic health schools. Which one can help you reach your career goals?
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Schools
Students can either roll their bachelor’s and master’s degrees into one program or earn a master’s separately. Acupuncture schools also focus on nutrition, tai chi, and qigong. You’ll learn how to incorporate TCM into the Western health care system.
Accredited acupuncture and TCM programs are located throughout the country.
Massage Therapy Schools
Massage therapy schools are widespread, partly due to the industry’s growing popularity in mainstream medicine. You can find programs on larger campuses, but smaller schools that focus solely on a massage therapy curriculum are very common. Students may learn different types of techniques, such as sports massage or Reiki, as part of their coursework.
Massage therapy schools are much more ubiquitous than naturopathic doctor (ND) schools. You can likely find one in a city near you.
Naturopathic Medicine Schools
Students enroll in an intensive, four-year doctoral program, which includes clinical training. Their studies encompass just about all treatment methods in the holistic health field, including nutrition and massage. Naturopathic schools may also offer other degree programs, such as acupuncture. A good ND program will prepare you to take the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX).
The program is rigorous and is often compared to the education that traditional medical doctors receive.
“Credit loads are often the same in both programs,” says Jennifer Bennett, ND, LAc, a professor at Bastyr University in Seattle. “There is less of an emphasis on things like emergency medicine, but naturopathic medical students are trained to prescribe pharmaceuticals, do minor surgery, and perform standard laboratory and medical procedures commonly done in primary care medical practices.”
Naturopathic medical students also receive extensive training in physical medicine, nutrition, botanical medicine, and supplement and nutrient medicine, which is often not included in traditional medical education.
Currently, there are only seven naturopathic programs in North America accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. Competition can be fierce, and students often relocate to earn their degrees.
Nutrition programs are offered as bachelor’s and master’s-level programs throughout the country. These programs focus on how diet affects overall health with a focus on individual nutrient needs. You might be able to complete your nutrition program online or at a local university.
Some natural health schools focus their attention on certificates, while others have a more robust degree selection. If you’re interested in adding new expertise to an existing degree, a certificate may do the job.
Holistic Medicine Degree Types & Requirements
Here are some popular program types you’ll find at holistic medicine schools:
Acupuncture uses needles to stimulate specific points on these pathways to encourage healing and balance. Acupressure stimulates the same points using physical pressure applied with fingers, elbows, or specialized tools.
Degrees: Master’s or doctorate
Typical time to complete: Three to five years
Clinical/fieldwork/internship requirements: You’ll need at least 660 clinical hours to sit for the nationally recognized Certification in Acupuncture exam from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
Ayurveda is a traditional medical practice that originated in India. The word Ayurveda means “the science of life.” Practitioners focus on whole-body healing through treatments like meditation, cleansing, yoga, and herbal remedies. You’ll learn how to prescribe and administer these treatments in an Ayurvedic Sciences program.
Typical time to complete: Two to four years
Clinical/fieldwork/internship requirements: Depends on your program, but is often required
When studying energy healing, you will gain an understanding of chakras, meridians, auras, and other ways of understanding the invisible energy systems of the human body. You will learn to correct energy imbalances and encourage optimal health through techniques such as crystal therapy, sound healing, radiatory healing, and meditation.
Degrees: Associate or bachelor’s
Typical time to complete: Two to four years
Clinical/fieldwork/internship requirements: Depends on your program but is often required
There are three basic branches of herbal medicine: traditional Chinese herbalism, Ayurvedic herbalism, and Western herbalism. In any tradition, you will learn the medicinal properties of many plants and their healing applications. You will be taught to assess patients and develop tailor-made herbal formulas to treat a wide range of illnesses and imbalances.
Typical time to complete: Four years
Clinical/fieldwork/internship requirements: The American Herbalists Guild recommends at least 400 clinical hours for aspiring herbal medicine practitioners.
Typical time to complete: A few months to several years
Clinical/fieldwork/internship requirements: An internship might be required by some programs.
All massage training begins with a detailed study of anatomy, physiology, and contraindications, or factors that make massage techniques or procedures inadvisable in certain situations.
You can then choose from many massage techniques, such as Swedish massage, trigger point, deep tissue, shiatsu, and Thai massage. There has been a growing demand for massage therapy since its integration into Western healthcare, making it a great area of study for holistic health practitioners.
Degrees: Certificate or associate
Typical time to complete: A few weeks to two years
Clinical/fieldwork/internship requirements: It will depend on your program, but all programs have at least some clinical components.
Midwives use a holistic approach to childbirth. They’re not only able to provide healthcare during pregnancy and labor. They can also educate new parents on infant care, including breastfeeding.
Certified nurse-midwifery programs require you to be a registered nurse before enrolling. Other midwifery programs are non-nursing based. No matter what, you’ll study biology, anatomy, prenatal care, postnatal care, and other health topics.
Typical time to complete: Three years
Clinical/fieldwork/internship requirements: Will depend on your program, but clinical hours are always a requirement.
Naturopathic training prepares you to provide naturopathic medical care. You’ll receive clinical training to prescribe medicine, perform treatments, and more. You’ll also learn about nutrition, botanical medication, and supplements.
Typical time to complete: Four years
Clinical/fieldwork/internship requirements: This will depend on your program, but you won’t be able to earn a license without significant clinical hours.
Clinical/fieldwork/internship requirements: Will depend on your program, but clinical hours or internships are often required.
Holistic Medicine Schools Online
Just like allopathic medical schools, holistic health programs often require their students to work in a hands-on environment—especially if you’re enrolled in a massage therapy or acupuncture program. However, if you’ve delayed going back to school because you don’t think you have the time, an online holistic medicine program may be available for you.
Certificates for professional advancement or to enhance a practitioner’s knowledge are offered by some online programs. Examples of these include acupuncture, herbal medicine, life coaching, massage therapy, and nutrition.
If you’re looking for an online degree, complementary alternative medicine, health and wellness, or mind-body transformational psychology programs might be right for you.
What to Expect From Online Holistic Courses
One of the benefits of online programs is rolling admissions, which allow you to start school when you’re ready instead of waiting for a new semester or quarter. This means you don’t have to delay your dreams.
Online holistic health classes use the same tools and methods as other online programs. You’ll interact with professors and fellow students using email and discussion boards. Your holistic medicine school coursework may include videos, readings, and online lectures.
If the program is “asynchronous,” meaning classes aren’t live, you’ll have the flexibility to complete your holistic health studies when it’s convenient for you (as long as you meet the due dates). It’s a perfect opportunity for students who are working or have family obligations.
Accredited online holistic health programs are designed to help you connect with others. Even if you aren’t meeting face-to-face, you’ll interact with students from different corners of the world. You never know what you might learn from each other!
A holistic health school and its programs should be accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. This ensures the program meets strict guidelines and prepares students to work in their field.
Look for regional and/or professional education accreditation on a school’s website. For instance, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) gives its stamp of approval to naturopathic doctor programs. Other accrediting agencies to look for:
Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)
Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)