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Top Alternative Healing Schools

Top Alternative Healing SchoolsAlternative healing practiced by naturopathic physicians offers health care that encompasses various holistic forms of medicine rather than surgery or prescription drugs. Natural healers are taught to consider all elements of the human form -- mind, body, and spirit -- as one whole unit and healing one part, the body, must also include healing the other two, the mind and spirit.

While it may appear pseudoscientific, practitioners of medical healing are required to be licensed by the state and have attended a four-year, graduate level degree granting program accredited by the U.S. Department of Education.

Alternative Medicine

The North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners, which grants ND licensing, has approved a rather short list of medical education programs that are accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education and provide a minimum of four-years of graduate-level education and in-residence training in both basic biomedical science and clinical naturopathic training.

The following U.S. schools have been approved by the NABNE to provide naturopath degrees. This approximate ranking is based on student-faculty ratio and total enrollment for the 2010 academic year, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

  • National University of Health Sciences
  • Bastyr University
  • University of Bridgeport, College of Naturopathic Medicine
  • National College of Natural Medicine
  • Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences

Below are some of the alternative healing focuses available.

General naturopathic care

Naturopathic physicians, called NDs as opposed to MDs, are typically trained in traditional medical schools and have earned a traditional medical degree, however, their degree focuses on naturopathic medicine and they practice unorthodox, yet legal and licensed, health care. NDs can offer minor surgery and homeopathic medicine in addition to natural childbirths and nutrition. Some may use herbal therapy to help heal internal organs or treat diabetes and arthritis.

According to the Association of Accredited Naturopath Medical Colleges, aspiring ND students must attend an accredited four-year institution which provides a graduate level degree in naturopathic medicine. Like other medical programs, classes in immunology, histology, anatomy, pharmacology, biology, nutrition, and counseling are required, with the addition of naturopathic classes in homeopathy and botanical medicine. Undergraduate courses which are required for admission include biology, biochemistry and psychology.

NDs must also receive licensing in the state or province in which they intend to practice. Licensure is granted by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners. Some states do not require NDs to be licensed; the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges has a map of states and Canadian districts that require ND licensing.

According to O*NET Online, general naturopathic practitioners earned a national median salary in May 2011 of $70,690 per year and employment is expected to increase by 10 to 19 percent from 2010 to 2020. (This information is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for "Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners, All Other.")


Chiropractors believe that misalignment of the spine and joints can cause damage to the nervous system which can diminish the body’s immunity and innate ability to heal itself and combat disease. To correct the misalignment, chiropractors provide musculoskeletal therapy which involves adjusting a patient’s spine and joints by hand. Other treatments can include heat and cold therapy where warm or cold packets are placed on a patient’s body to relax the muscles surrounding a joint.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov, 2012), some chiropractors work in specializations, such as neurology, orthopedics and pediatrics. Chiropractors can also work with nutritionists to help lower a patient’s weight. In cases where a chiropractor may need to perform x-rays or ultrasounds, certification and training in radiology are required. Some chiropractors also have their own clinics and are responsible for the running of a medical office in addition to treating patients.

All chiropractors require a doctoral degree in chiropractics and licensure by the state they intend to practice in. Licensing is awarded following the completion of an exam administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. The doctoral degree is a post-graduate degree which takes an average of four years to complete.

Many schools require at least three years of undergraduate education prior to enrollment and some require students to take classes in anatomy, physiology and biology within the first years of the degree program. The BLS (BLS.gov, 2012) also notes that a post-graduate residency is often needed by many recent chiropractic graduates to expand their skills in a particular concentration of chiropractics.

According to the BLS, the national median salary of a chiropractor was $66,060 per year in May 2011 (BLS.gov, 2012). Many are self employed, working in a practice they own (BLS.gov, 2012). The BLS also projects the employment of chiropractors to grow by up to 28 percent from 2010 to 2020 (BLS.gov, 2012). Growth is expected as a result of the aging baby boomer generation and the demand they will likely have for chiropractic treatment.


While it may look painful, acupuncture has been approved by the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine for treating pain, post-operative nausea and stroke rehabilitation.

All states require acupuncturists to be licensed and graduate from a four-year graduate degree program. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) offers certification as a Diplomat of Acupuncture. Requirements for certification include passing a written test in acupuncture as well as passing a clean needle test and graduating from an accredited institution.

According to O*NET Online, acupuncturists earned a national median salary, in May of 2011, of $70,690 per year, and employment is expected to grow between 10 to 19 percent from 2010 to 2020. (Projections are based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for "Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners, All Other.")

Massage therapy

Massage therapy is applied through the fingers, palms and elbows. It may also include the feet or rhythmic tapping. The pressure can relax overworked and strained muscles which have resulted from an injury. Classic massage has been approved by many alternative healing schools as a form of physical healing; modern treatments can include myofascial release, the process of relaxing a flexible, netlike membrane that covers muscles in the body, and myotherapy, the process of relaxing taut bands of muscles and joints.

The BLS (BLS.gov, 2012) notes that training for massage therapy often requires 500 hours of hands-on experience or more before the program is completed; many alternative healing schools provide massage therapy training programs but programs are also available from independent schools. Additionally, many states require massage therapists to have a license and certification. The license exam is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, which provides a map of states that require licensure to practice.

The BLS (BLS.gov, 2012) reports the 2011 national median salary for massage therapists at $35,830 per year in May 2011. Because many therapists work by appointment, their hours can vary. Massage therapists are expected to see employment growth of up to 20 percent from 2010 to 2020 as a result of a greater number of spas and -- as a result of the successful effect massage can have on arthritis -- the increase in age of the baby boom generation (BLS.gov, 2012).

Learn more about alternative healing programs

When researching online colleges and universities, make sure to verify that your choice of school is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council or by another accrediting agency that is approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or both. DETC and CHEA both provide a searchable list of approved schools.

Refer to the NCCAOM for information on acupuncture programs or schools that may be marketed as approved by the NCCAOM.

The Consortium of Academia Health Centers for Integrative Medicine provides a list of academic medical centers that provide integrative medicine programs as does the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education.


Sources and further reading:

Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education

The Distance Education and Training Council

O*NET Online

The North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

The Council on Naturopathic Medical Education

The Consortium of Academia Health Centers for Integrative Medicine

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners

The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges

The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards

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