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Education & Training in Complementary Therapies in the UK

by Carole Preen(more info)

listed in clinical practice, originally published in issue 229 - April 2016

At this time of year, people are reflecting on life and may be considering a new career. Many people decide to train in complementary therapies because they have a passion for helping others, or they may have experienced a therapy themselves and been inspired. Often people feel that self-employment will give them the flexibility they need in order to have a family or maybe it is just to branch out and be your own boss with no limits on your potential and earnings. Whatever the reason, where do you go to research which course to do that will give you the right qualification and the best training? There is a quagmire of training providers on the internet, including online learning, which may be suitable for you if you need to train whilst still working, but what about standards? This article aims to point you in the right direction and will cover training in bodywork therapies such as aromatherapy, body massage and reflexology, plus nutrition, acupuncture, herbalism, homeopathy and more esoteric therapies such as reiki and crystal therapy.

One of the author’s Kew Garden teaching tours

One of the author’s Kew Garden teaching tours

Clearly you want your course to be recognized by the profession and the regulatory body for that therapy, but how do you choose which is which?

Factors to Consider in Aromatherapy, Body Massage and Reflexology

Firstly, ensure your course is benchmarked to the National Occupational Standards (NOS) and the professional Lead Bodies Core Curricula; Aromatherapy Council (AC), The Council for Soft Tissue Therapies (GCMT) and Reflexology Forum (RF). For aromatherapy and massage, you can find these documents on their respective websites (  and ). For reflexology, you have to buy the Core Curriculum. The NOS were written for the government agency, Skills for Health, by the Lead Bodies mentioned above. The NOS were last updated in April 2009 and the Aromatherapy Council is currently updating its Core Curriculum and it will be republished in February.

Students engaged in learning Anatomy and Physiology

Students engaged in learning Anatomy and Physiology

The Lead Bodies produce the Core Curriculum for course providers and Awarding Bodies (such as City & Guilds, ITEC & VTCT) so they can write their syllabi, which include all the assessment methods and course content. The Core Curriculum is therefore a bridge between the NOS and a course syllabus and all course providers should ensure they meet the requirements contained therein. These are called the baseline requirements for professional practice, so the minimum you would have to do to qualify as a professional therapist. Professional therapy courses are set at Level 3, which is equivalent to A level. This is also the minimum requirement needed to join many of the professional associations and essential if you want to register with the regulatory body, which is the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).

The author teaching at Morley College

The author teaching at Morley College

What are the Key Points of the NOS & Core Curriculum?

The first question to ask your prospective course provider is the number of case study hours you will have to do. In order to meet the requirements of the Aromatherapy Core Curriculum you will need to do 60 treatments on a minimum of 10 ‘clients’. So for example, you could do 10 clients 6 times or 15 clients 4 times. You can’t count any work you do in-class towards your treatment hours total and you cannot work on fellow students as a case study.  15% of the treatments can be other than massage as an aromatherapy treatment can also include compresses, making up creams/lotions etc., for home use, or an inhalation or prescribing an aromatic bath or burner (vaporization). For body massage the number of case studies is a minimum of 15 clients, with a minimum of two treatments per client for at least 8 of them. The overall total should be at least 36 treatments. For reflexology, you have to complete 100 case studies. Another question for aromatherapy would be to ask about the number of essential oils, resins and absolutes (collectively referred to as essences) and base oils (carriers) you will be studying. The NOS & AC Core Curriculum has a table for both with the correct Latin names alongside.


Julie Quinn Lecturing about Reflexology

Julie Quinn Lecturing about Reflexology

You may be considering a distance learning course because this fits in with your lifestyle and work and family commitments, or there just isn’t a suitable course in your area. This is quite acceptable as long as the course meets the required baseline standard of the NOS and also adheres to all the assessment methods in the Lead Body Core Curricula. A distance learning only course is not acceptable to the professions as all the Core Curricula state that you have to attend a certain number of hours in class with your tutor that do not include the practical exam. If you do undertake a pure distance learning only course with no face to face in-class contact hours, or only one or two days, you may be able to get insurance at present, but you will not be recognized by the various professions, will not be able to join any of the reputable professional associations and will not be able to register with the CNHC. So these courses are fine if you just want the information for personal use but a waste of your time and money if you want to work as a professional therapist.

Factors to Consider in Nutritional Therapy

This is actually easier to research because you only need visit the website of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). If any course you consider is not accredited by BANT and the CNHC, then it is not worth doing as it will adversely affect your ability to practise. You can find a list of training providers on the BANT website at  where they also give advice on choosing a training provider. As with the bodywork therapies listed above, nutritional therapy also has National Occupational Standards that were last updated in 2009. There are courses in nutritional therapy that bodywork therapists may do for CPD, which help inform them about the diet and lifestyle of their clients. These courses do not allow any therapist to be able to give nutritional advice to clients. If this is needed, they need to refer the client to a registered Nutritional Therapist.

Factors to Consider in Acupuncture

Acupuncture study is mostly at degree level; either a BSc or MSc for medical professionals. The self- regulatory body for acupuncture is the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) and like the CNHC, their register is accredited by the Professions Standards Authority for Health & Social Care. The Authority makes sure the public is protected when choosing and using health care services by independently assessing organisations who register practitioners who are not regulated by law, working both within and outside of the NHS.

The British Acupuncture Council Accreditation Board (BAAB) accredits acupuncture courses. You can access a full list of courses on their website at .

Factors to Consider in Herbalism

The herbalist profession has been working hard over the past 15 years and more to achieve statutory regulation and these debates are ongoing. The Herbal Forum is an industry body set up to protect the herbal sector and holds regular meetings with the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) (ATC 2009). The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH), established back in 1864, is the UK's leading professional body that represents herbal practitioners and holds a register as well as accredits training providers. On their website, , you can view the page entitled "Becoming a Medical Herbalist, which shows that training to be an herbalist is a degree or MSc programme only and currently only lists two providers for a BSc and three for the MSc. There are online courses advertised on the internet for herbalism but do not be fooled by these. Remember, a little knowledge is dangerous and the profession would not state that this is a degree only training course if it were not absolutely necessary that it should be so. Short courses in herbalism can be fun and interesting for personal use only but consult a qualified herbalist who has undertaken a degree if you want clinical advice.

Factors to Consider in Homeopathy

There are several homeopathy organisations in the UK. For the purposes of this article, I have reviewed the Society of Homeopaths website as they purport to be the UK's leading organisation that registers homeopaths with over 1100 members (SoH 2016). They accredit courses and the academic level has to be equivalent to that of a first degree (level 6) and the training lasts for 3 to 4 years. The "Studying Homeopathy" page of their website at  has lots of useful advice on what to ask prospective training providers as well as a list of accredited providers.

Factors to Consider in Reiki

As with many of the therapies listed above, Reiki also has National Occupational Standards (NOS) that determine the base line standard for training in the UK. The lead body in the UK is the Reiki Council ( ). Reiki is regulated by the CNHC. The UK Reiki Federation has a list of Reiki practitioners and teachers on its website at . The question to ask your teacher would be to ensure that they are following the NOS and that they are registered with a professional association and therefore are up to date with their CPD.

Factors to Consider in Crystal Healing Therapy

Crystal Healing is self-regulated by the Affiliation of Crystal Healing Organisations (ACHO). A full crystal healing qualification runs over two academic years where you achieve an associate diploma in the first year and your full crystal healing practitioner diploma in year two. The diploma course includes 180 hours of face-to-face learning as it is agreed that this therapy needs tutor supervision in order to learn the therapy properly. Some of the theory may be able to be taught by distance learning but a distance learning only course is not recognised by the profession; it would need to be blended learning that includes 180 hours face to face learning. You can download the ACHO Training Standards from their website at . There is no NOS for crystal healing therapy but ACHO standards are what you should check for when considering training. There is a list of accredited training providers on the ACHO website.

The author lecturing at CAM Expo Sept 2015

The author lecturing at CAM Expo Sept 2015

What about the Tutor?

Your tutor has to be someone who has been qualified and in full-time practice for at least two years (for bodywork but may be more for degree programmes) and have attained a recognized teaching qualification, so that they can provide you with the very best level of training and support. It is important that your tutor also belongs to a professional association and completes annual Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements, not just in their therapy but for teaching as well. So check that your tutor is not only trained but up-to-date as well. Go and book in a treatment with them if possible so that you can experience their knowledge and professionalism and ensure they can answer all your questions about the course to your satisfaction. If this is not possible, go and meet them at the college/university or telephone or email your questions. If it is a blended learning course (mix of online learning and practical workshops), then ask who your personal tutor is so that you can find out about their qualifications and experience and contact them about the type of support on offer.

What about the Cost?

It is natural when selecting a product or service to consider the cost and try to obtain the ‘best deal’.  This is perhaps the most confusing part of selecting a course as you will come across any figure in range of £49-£5,500.  So how do you know you will be getting value for money? It stands to reason that the teacher needs to be paid, so if you roughly calculate that most teachers get paid around £30 per classroom hour the minimum teaching cost for a course of 80 hours will be £2,400.  Add to that rental of premises, provision of equipment and materials, course administration, examinations and you will see that a figure somewhere in the middle of that range is reasonable.  Anything less and you are very unlikely to be receiving quality training.  After all training for a new professional career where people are entrusting their health and wellbeing with you should not be cheap.  You should however ask if there are advanced learning loans available or staged payment terms.  For example, at Complementary Health Professionals we allow students to pay module by module in bite sized chunks of £100, with practical workshops being £125 per day.  Other colleges will offer monthly direct debits over the first half of the course.

Enrolling on a Course

Many colleges interview candidates for courses so that you know what is expected of you in terms of commitment in order to successfully complete the course. For other schools, the information will be laid out in detail on their website and you can telephone or email your questions. Either way, remember that this is equivalent to an A level, so you can expect a lot of coursework (called formative assessments). If you have any learning difficulties, it is helpful if you declare this at the beginning as colleges have student support services to help you. All schools will make reasonable adjustments and you are likely to get the support you need if you let everyone know from the start. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to train in massage prior to training in aromatherapy. Massage is a separate qualification and although we may use the same 5 classical massage movements in aromatherapy, they are performed in a different way, incorporating lots of stroking and lymphatic drainage, quite different from “Swedish” massage. You will however have to study Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology in all the therapies mentioned above, except with reiki. Crystal Healing may include some A and P studies, but I would recommend taking a full A, P and P certificate anyway as it ultimately makes you a better therapist if you have a grounding in this first.

There are many other therapies that I have not been able to cover here but the approach you take should be the same. First find out if the therapy is regulated by the CNHC. Then you will know that they have National Occupational Standards as only therapies with NOS can be regulated by them. If the therapy does not have NOS, find out more about it and ask to see what level of qualification you will gain and search to find professional associations who will accept it and provide insurance. If you need any advice, we are always happy to advise at Complementary Health Professionals so please email us for help at . Send us the link to the course you are thinking of doing and we will give you an honest professional opinion.

My Story and Further Information

Becoming a complementary therapist was the best career move I could have ever made. I was working in accountancy as a tax specialist prior to becoming an aromatherapist and was quite frankly bored stiff! 22 years later and after working as a therapist for the majority of this time, I now love sharing my experiences teaching others. I have been teaching for 20 years. I am always so proud when my graduates become successful therapists. It is hard work, but worth it as anything worth its salt is.

In 2015, I teamed up with two of the best therapists and teachers I know and took over the Aromatherapy and Allied Practitioners' Association (AAPA), which we re-launched and renamed at CAM Expo last year as Complementary Health Professionals. As well as a professional association that registers therapists, giving them what we believe to be the best professional support available today, we are also excited to be able to offer a range of blended learning diploma courses and a wide range of innovative and dynamic CPD courses. Of course all of the diploma courses we offer are benchmarked to the relevant NOS and Lead Body Core Curriculums as we are a centre of excellence in training provision. All of our blended learning courses come with amazing support in our online virtual learning area and all tutors are fully qualified to teach and are leading experts in their fields. Diploma course workshops and CPD courses are held in central London. As well as our own training courses, we also accredit schools who offer exceptional training and who are part of our network. Please visit our website at see what we can offer you. We look forward to welcoming you into our therapy family.


Website of the Aromatherapy Trade Council

Website of the Society of Homeopaths


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About Carole Preen

Carole Preen FCHP FANM HonMIFA is a Fellow of the Association of Natural Medicine and the former Aromatherapy & Allied Practitioners' Association and has been a practitioner since 1994 and an educator since 1997. She is also an honorary lifetime member of the International Federation of Aromatherapists awarded for her contribution to the profession. As well as specializing in Aromatherapy and Anatomy, Carole also introduced Neuroskeletal Re-alignment Therapy to the UK. Carole is an specialist educator, and internal and external moderator working in both the private and FE sector and has level 4 qualifications in quality assurance. She is Director of Complementary Health Professionals and may be contacted on Tel: 0333 577 3340;
For further information about Neuroskeletal Re-alignment Therapy (NSRT) please view the website at with links to published articles and a Facebook page. The diploma course is accredited by Complementary Health Professionals through Natural Therapeutics. Training details and information on booking a treatment with me is available via Mob: 07455 195 515

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