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Alternative Health Practitioner: Job Info & Career Requirements

Research the educational and skill requirements needed to become an alternative health practitioner, as well as the job description and employment and salary outlook. Read on to decide if this career is right for you.

Career Definition for an Alternative Health Practitioner

While alternative health practitioners may specialize in acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology, herbal therapy, massage therapy or biofeedback, their goals are the same: to treat the emotional, physical and mental needs of their patients using natural and alternative healing methods. Alternative health practitioners may work in medical office settings, private clinics or even make house calls. Alternative health practitioners meet directly with clients, evaluating their needs and developing care plans. Alternative health practitioners commonly work with clients who are seeking pain management or relief from stress. Although the tools with which alternative health practitioners work vary by trade, all tend to minimize the use of pharmaceuticals unless no alternatives remain and maximize the use of natural products such as herbs or essential oils.

Required Education Depends on discipline, from a certificate to a master's degree plus licensure and certificate
Job Duties Depend on specialization, but include treating the mental, physical and emotional needs of patients without pharmaceuticals
Mean Salary (2017) $83,350 (chiropractors)
$44,950 (massage therapists)
$84,210 (all health diagnosing and treating practitioners)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 12% growth (all chiropractors)
26% growth (all massage therapists)
16% (all health diagnosing and treating practitioners)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Depending on the type of practice, alternative health practitioners must complete varying levels of formal training and/or clinical experience. The awards, licenses, and certifications required to practice vary greatly by trade and by location. For instance, a chiropractor must spend four years or more earning a Doctor of Chiropractic, while an acupuncturist needs a master's degree. Comparatively, herbalists can earn a certificate in less than one year, but no formal education or licensing is required of aromatherapists. Some alternative health practitioners are subject to state licensing and certification regulations. Regardless of their specialty, alternative health practitioners study the principles of their chosen field, plus anatomy, physiology, clinical skills, and patient care.

Required Skills

O*Net Online reported that alternative health practitioners needed the following traits:

  • Outstanding business and networking skills
  • Good communication skills and problem-solving abilities
  • Genuine altruism toward clients and a passion for helping others
  • Active listening skills and excellent record keeping
  • Creative thinking, since sometimes the tools at hand must be used in new ways in order to discover different paths to symptom relief

Employment and Salary Outlook

The economic outlook for alternative health practitioners varies widely depending on specialty. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that chiropractors earned an average salary of $83,350 per year in 2017 and could enjoy a 12% increase in job openings between 2016 and 2026. Massage therapists earned an average of $44,950 annually in the same year, and the growth rate was predicted to be 26%, per the BLS.

The BLS also reported that health diagnosing and treating practitioners, which includes acupuncturists and naturopathic physicians, earned $84,210 the same year. The growth rate for these careers is said to be between 16% for the period 2016-2026, per the BLS. As more people become aware of the benefits of alternative and complementary health treatments, the job outlook is expected to be positive. More than 38% of adults use complementary and alternative medicine, according to the National Institute of Health's 2017 National Health Interview Survey (www.nccam.nih.gov).


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