Alternative Health Practitioner Career Guide

The Basics

Imagine that a loved one suffers from debilitating headaches, or perhaps they experience constant aches and pains. Maybe they’re under a lot of stress and are struggling to deal with it in a healthy manner.

Despite seeing medical doctors and specialists, and trying an array of western medical treatments and medicines, their condition simply does not seem to be improving.

Now imagine bringing your loved one to an alternative health practitioner – someone that uses practices like acupuncture, reflexology, biofeedback, and other treatments to help your loved one experience relief from their symptoms. Finally, they’ve found something that helps them relax, let go of stress, and feel normal again.

Though not everyone in the West accepts alternative health treatments with the same regard as medical or psychological treatments, the value of alternative health practitioners and their expertise cannot be understated. Their ability to bring relief to their patients while also largely avoiding the use of pharmaceuticals can help lead to healthier, happier living.

What is an Alternative Health Practitioner

Like medical and mental health professionals, alternative health practitioners are tasked with treating various mental, emotional, and physiological conditions, though the means by which they provide treatment differs greatly from the medical model.

Instead of relying on pharmaceuticals to provide relief for their patients, alternative health practitioners instead utilize modalities like aromatherapy, herbal therapy, and massage therapy to help their patients release stress and experience less pain.

But even in the realm of alternative health, there are yet more differences in the manner in which practitioners treat their patients. For example, some alternative health practitioners use biofeedback – a process in which the patient learns to control their body functions (like heart rate) by receiving feedback from sensors about your body.

Others use acupuncture to bring about positive changes to mind, body, and spirit. Yet others use massage therapy, hot rocks, cupping, and heat to help their patients release stress and relax.

What Does an Alternative Health Practitioner Do?

Alternative medicine is a growing field. Acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal supplements, body work, and the like, invite health practitioners to view the patient and the patient’s health more holistically.

Holistic medicine considers the whole person; a person’s body, mind, spirit, and emotions are all important to optimal health. Balance in life is the primary goal, leading to health. In contrast, western traditional medicine is based on treating symptoms.

For example, a migraine would be treated with medication in traditional western medicine environment. The same migraine would be treated with acupuncture for the pain as well as a plan to get to, understand, and alleviate the root of the problem by an alternative health practitioner.

Alternative care practitioners work from a variety of modalities and in a number of settings from clinics and hospitals to a patient’s home.  An alternative health practitioner can help alleviate chronic pain, asthma, and other chronic conditions, including stress by working with the body’s natural abilities to heal itself.

Acupuncture in particular has been shown to help with many types of chronic pain. Working with the mind-body connection, an alternative health practitioner treats the root of the problem rather than focusing treatment on alleviating symptoms.

An alternative health practitioner also works with patients to help them generate optimal health and wellness. Emphasis is placed on keeping the body in balance to help prevent disease. Body workers in particular work not only with muscles and ligaments, but also with fascia, the body’s internal connective tissue that attaches, stabilizes and separates muscles and organs.

An alternative health practitioner may also recommend mind body work such as yoga, tai chi, chi quong to help a patient move and balance their chi.

Chi is life force or life energy, and in order for the body to be in balance, a person’s chi must not be blocked. It must flow easily. This in conjunction with other natural therapies can help keep the body and mind healthy and vibrant.

Why Do We Need Alternative Health Practitioners?

Western medicine does help with many physical conditions and ailments, but like all things, it has limitations. Treating chronic pain is one of western medicine’s biggest limitations.

In western medicine, many diseases have no cure; many chronic conditions are managed, but often with expensive medications, that may have limited efficacy and tremendous side effects. Witness the opioid crisis in the United States at the present time. Certainly, pain medications can have serious side effects and provide limited and only short-term relief from pain.

Alternative health practitioners offer hope to those for whom western medicine has no answers. They also provide modalities that are often more effective and that have fewer negative side effects.

In addition, by working with the entire person, an alternative health care practitioner moves past merely treating a condition toward helping a person find balance and vibrant health.  This emphasis on health allows a person to feel more empowered and proactive in taking preventative steps that will combat the onset of chronic conditions. Instead of being a passive recipient of medication, the patient is active in their own health.

Instead of destroying or suppressing the “bad” forces causing the disease, alternative health practitioners focus on strengthening a person’s health-promoting forces. All of these reasons provide ample cause to seek alternative health either in conjunction with western medicine or in its place.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become an Alternative Health Practitioner?

Alternative health is a wide-ranging area with a wide variety of very different disciplines. As a result, the educational requirements to become an alternative health practitioner also vary widely.

The educational requirements depend on the specialty of the practitioner. For example, to become a massage therapist, one must complete a massage therapist training program. Upon completion of the program, which might take up to 1-2 years to complete, certification or licensure might be required, though this varies greatly from one location to the next.

Alternatively, to become an acupuncturist, you must complete many more educational requirements, including a master’s degree in acupuncture in order to practice. Furthermore, like massage therapists, acupuncturists may or may not be required to be certified or licensed by the state in which they work.

Another example of the varying educational requirements in this field is what it takes to become a chiropractor. After completing a four-year undergraduate program in a medical-related field, students must then complete a four to five year program from an accredited chiropractic college.

During that time, students study medical topics like anatomy, physiology, and biology, as well as nutrition, rehabilitation, and public health issues. In addition to these classroom-based studies, students must also complete clinical training in which they learn how to manipulate their patient’s bodies in a safe and effective manner.

To summarize, some alternative health practitioners need only a certificate to begin practice, where others must spend years and years getting formal training, certifications, and licensure to practice.

What are the Benefits of Being an Alternative Health Practitioner?

A career as an alternative health practitioner offers many benefits, including:

Flexibility of schedule – Many people employed in this field enjoy a degree of flexibility with their schedule that other occupations cannot offer. This is especially true for alternative health practitioners that are self-employed.

Good job outlook – As health and wellness become increasingly important topics, alternative health practitioners enjoy an improved job outlook for the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners will see a 10% uptick in employment over the next decade.

Good income potential – As a result of the increased demand for alternative health services, workers in this field enjoy excellent income potential. For example, as of May 2021, chiropractors earn an average of $75,000 per year, with some earning well over $100,000 per year.

Rewarding work – Work in this field offers another benefit – helping others. Alternative health practitioners often have very high job satisfaction because of their role in assisting their patients in living a healthier, happier life.

Opportunity for advancement – As one gains educational and work experiences in their chosen specialty of alternative health medicine, there are many opportunities for career advancement. That includes the ability to work for larger health organizations or even starting one’s own business.

How Much Does an Alternative Health Practitioner Earn?

The income potential for an alternative health practitioner depends on a variety of factors.

First, the area of specialty influences income, as some areas are in more demand than others. For example, as noted earlier, a chiropractor can expect to earn an income that averages around $75000 per year. Part of the reason for that is because chiropractic services are among the more mainstream of alternative health medicines and therefore enjoys high demand from the public.

As of October 2022, according to ZipRecruiter, acupuncturists in the United States earn an average of $75,691 yearly.

The location in which one works can also impact the income earned. Alternative health practitioners that work in private practice tend to make more money than those who are employed in other settings, like a public health clinic.

Additionally, the geographic location in which one works will influence the income earned. For example, alternative health practitioners that work in urban areas can expect to earn more money because of the higher demand for their services and the higher cost of living associated with urban areas.

The level of experience in the field will also determine earnings. A massage therapist that’s just starting his or her career might expect to earn just $46,910 per year, on average. However, with more experience, they might earn well over $70,000 per year or more (May 2021 data).

Related Reading

Further Reading

Featured Prorgrams Now Enrolling Students

Matching School Ads
Copyright © 2023 All Rights Reserved. Program outcomes vary according to each institution's curriculum and job opportunities are not guaranteed. This site is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional help.