What is Holistic Health?

Holistic health practitioners focus on the whole body in order to promote wellness. The term “holistic” implies a focus on something beyond individual symptoms, but practitioners may provide treatment for symptoms of illness. Holistic health practices may be closely associated with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Practitioner may be licensed in fields like massage and bodywork but also practice other healing arts. Holistic health practitioners provide care outside the mainstream – and yet the care they give is becoming mainstream. Holistic health practitioners sometimes work alongside medical professionals in integrated health centers. This is of course more common in some specialties than others.

Holistic health is a diverse field. A practitioner often has several areas of specialty but will have his or her particular bent. Some practices have a spiritual element. Some have a growing body of scientific evidence to back them up.

The following are among the broad areas of practice:

  • Energy work
  • Therapeutic movement
  • Massage and bodywork
  • Nutrition and herbology
  • Homeopathy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Mind-body therapies

Holistic health, though, can include everything from wellness coaching to equestrian therapy.

Holistic health practitioners may work for organizations such as spas, wellness centers, or integrated health centers. They may instead go into private practice.

Holistic Health Practice Issues

Some states have laws that protect the freedom to practice but also put certain standards in place. They often specify procedures that an unlicensed professional cannot carry out and require that the provider give out a professional disclosure statement of some sort. Minnesota helped pave the path. Minnesota code references 22 alternative practices but notes the list is not exhaustive. Examples addressed under Minnesota code include culturally traditional healing, herbalism or herbology, homeopathy, polarity therapy, acupressure, and meditation, as well as healing practices that involve food, food supplements, and physical forces such as light and heat (https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/146A.01#stat.146A.01.4). State code also addresses the use of these types of therapies by professionals who do hold healthcare licenses (https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/146A.065).

Nutrition and herbology can be a tricky area. Practitioners need to make sure they’re not carrying out duties reserved for other practitioners like dietitians. Different states set mandates differently. California code, for example, states that anyone can give nutritional advice – but it also sets some fairly strict limitations about what can’t be said (http://www.camlawblog.com/articles/dietary-supplements/california-law-for-nonlicensed-practitioners-and-nutritional-advice).

Holistic Health Licensing

Some California jurisdictions license holistic health practitioners. Chula Vista, for example, issues a holistic health practitioner license that is essentially “massage plus”. An applicant must document 1,000 hours of training and certification by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. The “1,000 hour” requirement is not uncommon among California jurisdictions.

Education for Holistic Health Practitioners

Holistic health programs are widely available at the diploma level – at least in some parts of the nation. People can take their education to a very high level, though. Naturopathic and naphrapathic medicine are both graduate level professions. So is acupuncture. Again, there is a geographic element to available options.

There can be a modular aspect to education. Students may complete just enough hours in the particular discipline to meet eligibility requirements for a third party certification. However, many individuals who study holistic practices are highly educated. A recent survey of Feldenkrais movement re-patterning practitioners found 90% had degrees.

Some degree programs tout themselves as adjunctive not as standalone pathways to careers as health practitioners.

Third party organizations play a role in ensuring programs meet appropriate standards for their discipline.

Some relatively short holistic health programs are, in a sense “massage plus”. A student takes the standard set of courses required for massage therapy and also takes a substantial block of coursework in related disciplines. It is not uncommon for a massage therapy program to offer some coursework such as aromatherapy. Hydrotherapy is frequently a required component of the massage therapy curriculum. However, a holistic health program takes coursework in adjunct therapies further. Some programs offer multiple tracks such as yoga teaching, nutrition, and herbology, or Reiki and craniosacral therapy.

Shorter courses may facilitate certification in a particular area. A person may, for example, take a 200 hour course in aromatherapy.

Movement Teaching and Therapy

Some holistic health practitioners teach movement courses that are designed to help people achieve wellness. Examples include Pilates and yoga. Yoga therapy is different than traditional yoga in that there is more of an emphasis on meeting individual client needs; it may be delivered in a group therapy or individual setting. The Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique are therapy-oriented and may be offered in a class setting or individual setting.

Third party certification organizations validate credentials of movement instructors. A yoga teacher may become a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) through the Yoga Alliance. With additional training, he or she can achieve certification as a Yoga Therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists (https://www.iayt.org/page/certification). The candidate will need to have graduated from an accredited program.


National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy https://naha.org

American Herbalists Guild https://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/school-profiles

National Ayuverdic Medical Association https://www.ayurvedanama.org