How to become a therapist
Holistic therapy offers a world of opportunities, and there are many reasons people choose to make a career from it. Perhaps you’ve experienced holistic therapy yourself and found it soothing for your own mind, body or soul. Perhaps you’ve developed a passion for a particular treatment type and want to share it with others. Whatever it is that brought you here, we’re thrilled to see you.
If you’re interested in becoming a holistic therapist, you’re in the right place. On this page, we'll discuss what the job entails, what skills you need to succeed and what training is required.
What does a holistic therapist do?
Holistic therapy (often referred to as complementary and/or alternative therapy) refers to treatments which aren’t currently offered within standard health care systems. A holistic therapist is a professional who carries out treatments that can be used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, conventional medicine.
A therapist will look to use their skills to help promote healing, improve health and boost well-being. They may work to treat a specific ailment (such as backache), or in a more general way (for example, to reduce stress). Many therapists have a holistic approach to health, meaning that they take body, mind and lifestyle into account during treatment.
What holistic therapies are there?
There are many holistic therapies you could specialise in, all with their own approaches and belief systems.
Examples of complementary therapies include:
- crystal therapy
- energy healing (such as Reiki)
- massage therapy
- yoga therapy
Examples of alternative therapies include:
Take a look at our list of therapies to see more examples of holistic treatments.
Some therapies are regulated by law; this means you’ll need to undertake specific therapist training or become a member of a certain professional body before you can practice. Such regulated therapies include:
The Chiropractors Act 1994 provides statutory regulation for chiropractic treatment and protects the title 'chiropractor'. The statutory regulator is the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), which was established by parliament to regulate and develop the chiropractic profession.
This means you must be a member of the GCC by law to practice chiropractic treatment in the UK.
The title 'physiotherapist' is protected by law. This means that therapists wishing to practice physiotherapy must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The HCPC is a regulator set up to protect the public by listing professionals who meet their set standards for training, professional skills and behaviour.
To become an osteopath you must register with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). The council works alongside the public and the osteopathic profession to promote patient safety. They do this by setting standards of osteopathic practice and conduct, and only listing those who meet these standards.
Where do holistic therapists work?
Some holistic therapists work for an employer out of an established practice, but many work for themselves. Those who are freelance may rent a room to practice from or work from home. Some may even offer a mobile service where they travel to clients' homes.
Could I work within the NHS?
Although complementary therapies aren’t widely available on the NHS, there are some cases in which patients may be referred to a holistic therapist. For example:
- If you’ve been injured, physiotherapy may be offered to restore movement of bones, joints or soft tissue.
- If a patient has Parkinson's disease they may be advised to try the Alexander Technique.
- If a patient suffers from morning sickness, acupressure can be offered.
- Patients with persistent low back pain may be advised to try acupuncture, osteopathy or chiropractic therapy.
NHS organisations or clinicians decide which complementary health care packages are available for NHS patients. Full-time positions within the NHS as a complementary therapist are rare.
What qualifications do I need?
For most complementary and alternative therapies, there are no laws to stipulate the level of training required to practice. The therapist training routes and qualification structures will vary according to each therapy. Therefore, it’s down to you to do some research into the type of training you need in order to qualify.
If you’re planning to take on clients and charge for your services, it’s important that you’re sufficiently qualified and insured. This is to protect both yourself and your clients.
For guidance on what to look for when starting therapy training, read our tips for choosing a training course/organisation.
If you’re ready to start training, we have affiliated with several training organisations which offer qualifications that we accept. This is not an exhaustive list and we do encourage you to do your own research but it can be a good place to start, particularly if you’d like to become a member with us upon qualifying.
Do I need to join a professional body?
Due to the lack of legal regulations in place for holistic therapies, several voluntary professional bodies have emerged with the aim of self-regulation. This offers a sense of security to clients looking for a therapist and encourages professionals to reach higher standards of training.
Aside from regulated therapies, there are no legal requirements for a therapist to register with a professional body. Having said this, registering is recommended. Joining a professional body allows you to prove your professionalism to clients and helps you stay up to date with industry techniques and trends.
Each professional body will have different entry requirements and some may ask you to complete Continuing Professional Development.
Find out more about the role of professional bodies and decide which one may be right for you.
What happens after I’ve qualified?
If you’re intending to make a living from your work as a holistic therapist, developing some commercial skills and working on improving your practice can help you to stand out and maintain a successful career.
If you’re a member of a professional body, they may be able to offer some advice. Another useful resource is the UK government website, which provides information for those looking to register as self-employed.
How can I market myself?
Working for yourself means it’s up to you to encourage clients to contact you - and that will require some sort of marketing knowledge. Understanding your target market and understanding the various ways you can promote your services is key.
Having your own website is ideal as it gives you a place to promote yourself and tell potential clients more about you. Having a social media presence can be helpful too, allowing you to connect more and build up an audience of potential clients. Producing regular content, whether that’s blogs, videos or podcasts, on your area of expertise is also encouraged. This will build trust and authority.
Joining Therapy Directory is an additional option you may want to keep in mind. With an established site that ranks highly in search engines, the option to publish articles and events and support from our dedicated membership services team - we help clients find you.
What is Continuing Professional Development (CPD)?
Once you have completed your initial training, you may wish to continue your learning with Continuing Professional Development courses. CPD refers to the process of tracking and documenting any additional skills gained after your initial therapist training. Undertaking CPD can help you remain up to date with the latest techniques, rules and regulations of the industry.
Many professional bodies will stipulate in their guidelines that members must carry out CPD to retain their membership. For independent therapists, CPD can assure clients that they’re continuing to top up their skillset and develop their expertise.
CPD opportunities can either be found through our events for therapists and trainees section or through professional organisations. It’s also worth noting that CPD does cost money, so it’s advisable to budget for the expense.
What legal issues do I need to consider?
Whether you’re looking to set yourself up as self-employed, start a partnership or begin a limited company, there are several legal issues to consider. You’ll need to arrange insurance to cover public liability and professional indemnity, and also for employees if you intend to hire staff.
Familiarising yourself with any legal requirements you may have to fulfil is an important step before you begin practising. Research whether you need to register with Companies House, what your tax and VAT obligations are and what needs to be done under the PAYE system; this is important if you want to make the most of your business.
What fees can a holistic therapist charge?
There is no set fee for holistic therapies, which means you’ll have to decide how much you will charge yourself. Deciding how much to charge for your services can be a difficult task, especially if you’re newly qualified.
The following video from the Federation of Holistic Therapists explores three tips to help you charge what you’re worth:
Taking the following factors into consideration is also advised:
- Industry standards - See what other therapists at your level, in your sector are charging.
- Location - If there is a high demand for complementary therapies where you live, you may be able to charge more for your services.
- Competition - See what your competition is charging. If there are lots of therapists offering the same service nearby, you may find clients are 'over-supplied'. In this case, you may decide to reduce your prices.
- Experience - If you’re newly qualified you may want to charge lower rates until you build up some experience. The more years of experience you have, the more able you are to charge higher rates.
If you want to learn more about how to become a therapist, the following websites may be useful:
Find the complementary therapist for you
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