Alternative and Holistic Health Careers Are Thriving
Alternative medicine is rapidly becoming part of mainstream American health care. Patients are turning to a wide range of disciplines like acupuncture, iridology, herbal medicine, naturopathy, chiropractic treatment, massage, aromatherapy, homeopathy, and holistic nutrition to discover the underlying causes of illness and disease. Alternative and holistic health practitioners treat entire energy, blood, and neurological systems in order to allow the body to heal chronic conditions and prevent illnesses.
Degree programs in alternative medicine may combine Western and Eastern medicines, offering courses in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and biochemistry, alongside training in Chinese herbs, body points and meridians, and energy systems. Naturopathic healers may use flower remedies, homeopathic and herbal tinctures or pills, as well as dietary counseling and supplements. Acupuncturists and massage therapists depend on knowledge of chi and anatomy to promote healing of internal organs, the skin, and muscles.
Wide-ranging Disciplines and Holistic Career Training
Depending on your specialization, your career training may take as little as a year or upwards of four years. Massage therapy schools offer instruction in a broad range of modalities, which can include Swedish, Shiatsu, craniosacral, sports, acupressure, trigger point, Hawaiian, or deep tissue massage. Each state has its own licensing requirements for massage therapists.
Formal training programs may lead to Bachelor of Science degrees in Holistic Nutrition, Natural Health, and Natural Health Studies. Grad programs offer Masters of Science degrees in Holistic Wellness, Natural Health, and Holistic Nutrition. Post-graduate training programs may lead to a Doctor of Naturopathy, Doctor of Natural Health, or a Doctor of Philosophy in Holistic Nutrition degree.
Herbology graduates often have their own practice, or consult with acupuncturists, doctors, chiropractors, and dentists. Students take nutrition as well as holistic medical courses to learn about herbs that balance body systems to promote natural healing and overcome systemic weaknesses.
Aromatherapy grads study the more than 60 essential oils that can be combined in creams, ointments, lotions, bath gels, compresses, and massage oils to produce healing effects on the body and mind. Their oils are used as inhalants or applied directly to the skin and can help treat a number of stress-related conditions.
Putting Your Degree to Work
Grads from alternative medicine programs will join the rapidly expanding healthcare industry, which is predicted to increase 27 percent through 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Practitioners will take positions in clinics, private offices, nursing homes, health agencies, spas, resorts, counseling centers, and hospitals that employ alternative health professionals. Some work in concert with other holistic professionals (for example, a massage therapist may work with a chiropractor).
Holistic practitioners also augment their income by offering clinics, seminars, and training programs for their clients or other professionals.
Massage therapists are among the fastest-growing career groups in alternative medicine, with a 20 percent increase in jobs predicted through 2016. Earnings for all holistic and alternative practitioners vary by training, experience, and geographic location of their practice. Massage therapists earned a median 2007 wage of $34,870, with top earners taking home more than $70,000.