Master of holistic wellness: alternative healing approaches

By Shannon Lee

Holistic medicine is an art and science of healing that addresses the entire person, including body, mind and spirit. Holistic wellness blends conventional medical therapies with alternative medicine to create a treatment plan that focuses on the complete wellness of a patient.

Holistic treatments include an evaluation of every part of patients' lives, such as their physical state, nutrition and diet, the environment around them, the lifestyle they choose, and emotional and spiritual elements. A doctor is seen as a health educator who offers advice and guidance.

Practitioners of holistic medicine believe it is better to treat the underlying cause of an illness rather than simply treating the symptoms, that a person's body has an innate ability to heal, and that prevention is preferable and more cost-effective than treatment.

Holistic wellness has been a staple of medical treatment for centuries. According to the American Holistic Medical Association, 40 percent of adults in the United States use some form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or CAM, to treat pain and illness. Chronic neck, back and joint pain are the leading reasons why people visit alternative medicine practitioners.

Graduate degrees in holistic wellness

Those who choose to pursue a master's degree in holistic wellness must first earn a bachelor's degree. Most applicants for the master's program have earned a bachelor's degree in some aspect of health care, such as nursing or nutrition. Courses in biology, mathematics, human anatomy, chemistry and physics form a good foundation for those pursuing a master's degree.

Numerous specialties fall under the umbrella of holistic wellness and alternative medicine. Here are some of the options for those who choose a master's degree in holistic wellness:

  1. Chinese medicine
  2. Homeopathic medicine
  3. Acupuncture
  4. Acupressure
  5. Massage therapy
  6. Naturopathic medicine
  7. Herbal medicine

Though holistic medicine degrees allow a student to earn an education in alternative forms of medicine, study of conventional medicine is also included in the coursework.

Coursework for online master's in holistic wellness programs

A master's degree that focuses on these specialties often takes between one and three years to complete. Though much of the work can be done online, those pursuing a master's degree also participate in supervised clinical courses, in direct contact with practitioners and patients. A hybrid approach to education--taking informational Web-based courses while performing on-site clinical duties--is an option for those who are hoping to pursue an online master's program in holistic wellness.

Master's degree programs begin with basic coursework in health and medicine, and then move into case studies and clinical work. Here are four of the common science courses that are generally a part of master's programs:

  1. Microbiology
  2. Human anatomy
  3. Biochemistry
  4. Physiology

Additional coursework for the master's program might include subjects such as these:

  • Diet and nutrition
  • Integrated health
  • Herbology
  • Aromatherapy
  • Holistic stress management
  • Asian approaches to healing
  • Holistic spirituality
  • Counseling techniques

During clinical work, students work with a wide variety of methods, including herbal remedies, massage, basic acupuncture and acupressure techniques, and other treatments that are closely supervised by professionals in the field.

Holistic wellness salary and career paths

The realm of holistic wellness spans numerous careers. Though holistic practitioners might be skilled in a wide range of treatments, some choose to focus their efforts on one particular area. Common roles within the field include the following:

  1. Acupuncturist
  2. Massage therapist
  3. Nutritionist
  4. Health educator
  5. Herbologist
  6. Polarity therapist
  7. Naturopath
  8. Yoga instructor
  9. Chinese medicine specialist

Some individuals might choose to go into occupations that are loosely related to holistic wellness, including sales of natural remedies, cultivation of herbs, and other activities that complement the tenets and treatments of holistic wellness.

Since there are so many career options in holistic medicine, salary ranges will vary, and specific salaries may not be available. The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes yoga instructors in the category of fitness trainers and aerobics instructors, whose mean annual wage for 2010 was $35,920. Here are some other common occupations and their mean annual wages for 2010:

  1. Nutritionist: $54,340
  2. Health educators: $50,270
  3. Massage therapist: $39,770

Depending upon the state and the specialty chosen, licensing might be required before someone can begin practicing legally. Licensing is also required for those who choose to pursue a doctoral program in holistic or alternative medicine. As for career opportunities, the AHMA reports that some hospitals and medical centers offer integrative medicine, and certain treatments could be covered by health insurance plans if prescribed by a physician. Training such as master's programs in holistic wellness could lead to a wide-ranging choice of potential careers in a variety of settings, from a yoga studio to a medical center.

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