Who Are Holistic Health Practitioners and How They Can Help You

By Val Silver

Seeking wellness help from holistic health practitioners and coaches is becoming a popular option as people take charge of their health and embrace alternative therapies. 

Navigating the realm of holistic health practitioners can be confusing. If you are wondering who or what is a holistic practitioner, want to become one, or are overwhelmed by the multitude of practitioners, coaches and healers out there, you are not alone.

What is a Holistic Practitioner?

The term holistic practitioner is used to describe a doctor, nurse, or healer who looks at your symptoms, but does not focus on them, and treats you from a whole person perspective. Holistic health practitioners often offer complementary and alternative therapies such as energy healing, nutritional testing, herbal remedies, aromatherapy, and/or sound healing. However, some of them may favor medicine or surgical interventions if they are licensed to provide them.

The term "holistic practitioner" is often used interchangeably with "natural health practitioner", but they are not necessarily the same thing. A natural health practitioner may or may not use a whole person approach. For example, they may use herbs to treat a particular symptom or condition just like doctors do with prescription drugs. This may sound like hair splitting, but it is not. A conventional doctor would prescribe medicine for your headache or stomach ache. A holistic doctor might do the same. After learning more about you, he may also suggest specific dietary improvements, acupuncture, and/or  teach you to soothe your stress with meditation. 

Having a License or No License

Licensing, and its need and value is another area of confusion and contention when it comes to holistic health practitioners.  A practitioner may or may not have a medical license. A license is not necessarily an indicator of skill level or knowledge.

Licensing availability and viability vary by state and country. For example, licensed naturopaths in some states are not recognized in others. The Master Herbalist degree I earned in the U.S. from the Australasian College of Health Sciences gave me access to professional organizations, but not licensing. If I lived in New Zealand, I would have had the option to sit for the Medical Herbalist Board Exams. Such exams and designations do not exist in the U.S. 

Holistic physicians and licensed practitioners include medical doctors with additional training, naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, massage therapists and physical therapists. In addition to the training in their licensed field, they may or may not have training in mind-body therapies or even healthy living. 

With few exceptions, natural health practitioners are not licensed. Herbalists, energy healers and other unlicensed practitioners have varying degrees of training. Do not mistake the word license with knowledge about natural healing and healthy living. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true.

Some of the most gifted, knowledgeable, intuitive healers you would have the privilege to work with may have no formal training at all. They may have learned at a grandparent’s knee, from mentors, on-line courses, reading, and/or are self-taught. Many serious holistic health practitioners have spent hundreds or thousands of hours (and dollars) studying, taking courses and gaining experience in a variety of modalities. They often hold several certifications.



Choosing and Working with Holistic Health Practitioners

  • Get to know the person you are working with. Ask about their training and experience and if/how they can help you with your particular needs. Ask for references or read testimonials. Keep in mind that people can legally call themselves a holistic practitioner, a naturopath or a Doctor of Naturopathy, among other titles not protected by law, regardless of whether they have a great deal of training, or none at all. 
  • Be clear on what your role is in the healing process and what is theirs. Have a conversation before starting a healing or coaching program so you know what to expect. Expect to hear words like personal responsibility, self care, and mind, body and spirit. Otherwise it is probably not holistic.

  • If you are concerned about insurance coverage, this is a biggie. Be very clear regarding your coverage. Get your information directly from your insurance company. I learned this lesson the hard way. If your treatment is considered experimental, not approved or preventive, they may not pay that expense, even if that doctor is in the network and it saves a lot of money and disability in the long-term. Services from unlicensed practitioners are generally not covered. Acupuncture and massage may be covered in whole or in part. 
  • Have realistic expectations. Holistic healing is not usually a magic bullet or a one minute cure. You cannot pop a vitamin or get one energy treatment and think it will have a lasting effect on your health. Getting well often takes time and requires a plan and commitment on your part. If you are not sure about which methods or remedies could be beneficial for you, or if you are not motivated on your own, consider working with a holistic health practitioner or coach. 
  • Keep in mind that unlicensed holistic health practitioners cannot diagnose disease, treat diseases, or prescribe medications or remedies to help you cure your diseases. They can provide you with information and resources so you can make informed decisions about your health and healing options. 
  • A holistic health coach may be a good choice if you want to work with someone who is knowledgeable about whole self wellness and has skills to help you clarify what you want, overcome resistance, provide resources, and support you as you achieve your wellness goals. A coach does not tell you what to do. S/he may or may not also be a holistic practitioner skilled in one or more complementary modalities, such as energy healing.
  • If you have a serious or complicated issue, a holistic physician may offer you the best of conventional and alternative worlds.  If one is not available, work closely with your medical doctor and make sure that your complementary treatments do not adversely interact with your medical treatment. Choose a healer or coach to work with in addition to your conventional medical provider. A best case scenario is that you all work together as a team for your good.
  • Whether working with a practitioner or alone, choose one or two methods and give them time to work. Some people approach alternative medicine like a smorgasbord, sampling too many modalities and healers at once. This can be expensive, as well as making it impossible to know what is helping and what is not. It also tends to foster the big bang and fizzle - you start with great enthusiasm before quickly going back to old habits. Holistic health practitioners can help you navigate the holistic healing approach, focus on your most pressing needs, stay the course, and modify your course as your needs change. 

To learn more about natural healing and whole self wellness, sign up for the Natural Health E-Course. It is a great way to familiarize yourself with this site while getting a good educational foundation, and then some. This is just one of the free "Thank You!" gifts you receive when you join Val's email community. You can easily unsubscribe at any time.

Holistic Practitioners page updated 03/2020

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