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. 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. 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.
A high school diploma or GED is required for certificate programs in holistic health. For master's and doctoral degrees, a bachelor's degree is required for admission.
Certain types of medicine may require a license to practice, as well as advanced degrees, such as M.D., or D.O.). Most programs require completion of fieldwork as part of the degree or certificate program. Professional certifications are available after or completion of the program.
Holistic Practitioner Certification
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) while 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). Programs require from 12-18 semester hours of coursework. Courses may cover:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Effects of sleep, laughter, spirituality and massage on stress management
- Healing through meditation and awareness
- Holistic nutrition
- Relationships between health and human nature
- Using cultural traditions to aid in health and healing
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. Master's degrees in holistic health require more courses, fieldwork, and research than certificate programs. They will include courses offered in the certificate program for the sake of new students who have not earned the certificate. The additional coursework may address:
- Collecting and analyzing holistic health data
- Energy fields for humans
- Holistic health research basics
- Interrelationship of the environment and human health
- Native American herbal remedies
- Women's health from a holistic viewpoint
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. Coursework in naturopathic medicine programs covers the same basic sciences as those covered in a traditional medical program. Additional coursework might include:
- Emergency medicine
- How normal human physical systems function
- The botanical pharmacy
- Therapeutic galvanism, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and other modalities
- Understanding therapeutic Western pharmaceuticals
- Using heat, cold and water therapeutically
Popular Career Options
Holistic practitioner careers are many and varied. In addition to those already mentioned, individuals might find work as an acupuncturist, chiropractor, holistic health practitioner or massage therapist. Depending on the role, a license and/or certification may be necessary. Stipulations vary.
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 17% from 2014-2024. For that same period, the BLS expected jobs for massage therapists to grow by 22%. O*NET OnLine predicted that there would be 17,700 job openings for naturopathic physicians during the decade from 2014-2024 (online.onetcenter.org). This job growth is projected to be 9%-13%. In 2015, annual median wages were $74,710.
Because few, if any, states have any formal requirements for holistic healthcare practices, the educational experience varies widely by state and specific program. Upon completion of a holistic certification or degree program, graduates may take positions as acupuncturists, massage therapists, or holistic healthcare practitioners, just to name a few possibilities.