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Alternative Therapist: Job Duties & Career Info

Read about a career in alternative therapy. Research the educational and skill requirements, and learn about the job description and employment and salary outlook for an alternative therapist.

Job Description for an Alternative Therapist

Alternative therapy is a broad title that refers to health care workers who perform complementary and alternative health duties as part of their daily routine as nurses, doctors or other health professionals. Alternative therapists may also offer alternative health treatments as solo practitioners independent of other medical training. They may work in a doctor's office, hospital, holistic health center or private practice. Alternative therapists use methods that are often considered outside the realm of traditional medicine, most often to provide palliative care.

Chiropractors Massage Therapists Acupuncturists
Education Doctoral or professional degree Graduate training Master's degree
Job Skills Compassion, empathy Strong sense of ethics Business and networking
Median Salary (2017) $68,640* $39,990* $73,830*
Job Growth (2016-2026) 12%* 26%* 13% (health diagnosing and treating practitioners, all other)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Alternative therapists must attend college, extension, vocational or technical programs, depending on their specialty. For example, chiropractors must earn a doctoral degree in chiropractic medicine; to do so, they must complete 4-5 years of postsecondary education and clinical work. Massage therapists may complete their training in less than a year. Acupuncturists may earn a master's degree. Alternative therapists must study the principles, theory, and practice of their specialty, as well as anatomy and physiology. Alternative therapists who are interested in running independent, private practices are encouraged to become learned in business as well.

Licensing Requirements

In addition to formal education, therapists must complete state licensing and certification tests that are required by their field of choice. Licensing requirements vary by state and may require very specific qualifications, as well as continuing education.

Required Skills

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that successful alternative therapists held the following qualities:

  • Excellent people skills in order to encourage new business and retain current patients
  • High level of professionalism
  • Business and networking skills
  • Compassion and empathy
  • Speaking, writing and listening skills
  • Strong sense of ethics

Employment and Salary Outlook

The 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that about 38% of adults use complementary and alternative medicine. According to the BLS, national median salaries can vary greatly depending on the specialty. In 2017, chiropractors earned a median salary of $68,640, while massage therapists earned $39,990 according to the BLS. The BLS also estimated that acupuncturists, who are classified as other health diagnosing and treating practitioners, earned $73,830 for this same year. This source also reported rates of employment growth as faster or much faster than average for chiropractors (12%), massage therapists (26%), and acupuncturists (13%).


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