Alternative Therapist

Alternative therapists focus on the connection between the structural, biochemical and emotional components of a patient's body in order to treat a range of conditions. They may analyse a patient's diet and lifestyle and develop personalised plans, including prescribed natural medicines and herbal treatments. They also manually stimulate muscles and bones to correct specific bodily ailments, and use a range of other organic techniques to stimulate the body's defence and immune systems.

Specialisations: Acupuncturist, Herbalist, Homeopath, Myotherapist, Remedial Therapist, Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner

Alternative names:     Natural Therapist, Naturopath

Main Qualities of an Alternative Therapist:

  • A desire to help people
  • An interest in alternative medical therapies
  • A caring and compassionate nature
  • Good communication skills
  • Patience and sympathy
  • Lateral thinking skills
  • Accuracy and sound judgment


Working conditions:

Alternative therapists work in natural health clinics, private practice, health-food shops and pharmacies. They may also work from home or travel to their clients’ homes. They need clean and comfortable environments that are warm, well-ventilated and quiet.

Tools and technologies:

Alternative therapists may use traditional medical equipment such as stethoscopes and thermometers, as well as specialised alternative therapy equipment such as acupressure machines, acupuncture needles, magnifier and iris cameras and electronic diagnostic equipment. They may refer to natural health reference books, and may need to be familiar with natural remedies such as herbs, minerals, vitamins or other homeopathic remedies.

Job Description

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.

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 and 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

Learning Environment

  • Some programs can be completed entirely online, while others require on-campus attendance for certain classes. Distance learners need access to a computer with high-speed Internet. Instructors create a virtual-learning environment by combining traditional texts with current online teaching methods, such as course management systems and online presentations. Instructors and classmates communicate primarily via e-mail.

Common Coursework

  • A curriculum in alternative medicine focuses on achieving wellness through balancing and nurturing a person's mind, body and spirit. Derived from traditions and practices in the East, alternative medicine practices mental calmness through life-coaching, yoga and spiritual studies, uses proper nutrition for optimum physical wellness and strives for natural healing using the body's own powers in preventative and restorative methods.
  • Introduction to Physiology and Anatomy
  • Students get a thorough overview of human physiology and anatomy. They learn how these systems relate to alternative medicine. Topics of special interest include the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems.
  • Protocols in Holistic Pathology
  • This course covers the principles of naturopathology and natural therapeutics. Instructors teach scientific techniques and philosophical tactics as to how an individual's relationship with nature can be used for natural healing powers.
  • Terminology in Healthcare
  • Students develop a working vocabulary of healthcare-related terms, giving them practice and knowledge of the healthcare language. They can immediately apply this information to other studies or current employment.


Career Information:

Depending on the chosen emphasis, an associate's degree in alternative medicine qualifies graduates to become, among other professions, herbalists, wellness coaches, aromatherapists, massage practitioners or yoga teachers. Individuals often work in hospitals, doctor offices and natural health centers. Many, such as massage therapists and yoga instructors, can practice privately.

Careers for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners are expected to increase over the next decade. The work environment for careers in this field varies, and many individuals are self-employed.