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Training & Licensing

Integrative and CAM providers have varied backgrounds and training. Compared to conventional medical doctors, there are no national licensing standards for alternative medicine practitioners in the United States. (There is, however, a National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, in addition to State Licensing Boards). In general, licensing is regulated at the state level, though not every state has alternative medicine regulations in place. Some states require that integrative/CAM professionals be licensed, certified or registered to practice. These requirements may include:
  • Graduating from an accredited training school with a minimum number of hours of training
  • Passing an examination that assesses knowledge and practice techniques
  • Knowledge of ethical and professional standards

Acupuncturists, nutritional counselors, massage therapists, naturopaths, and homeopaths are the professions most commonly regulated by the states. Professional boards and organizations often assist in the licensing process. A licensing board, for example, may include professionals in the field, legal advisors, and government representatives. These boards create licensing regulations, collect licensing and application fees, and determine policies for suspension, renewal and professional behavior. In addition, national professional organizations may set standards for training, curriculum hours and professional conduct, as well as offer examinations to those preparing to enter practice.

Today, many colleges and universities offer programs in alternative medicine. Some are comprehensive, meaning that they cover the broad spectrum of alternative treatments. Other schools offer extensive professional degrees in a single area of alternative medicine, such as a doctorate in acupuncture. In most cases, a CAM practitioner will have a degree (usually a bachelors or masters) in the healthcare field, followed by specialized training in whatever CAM field they choose. This is another reason why CAM education and training is so varied – practitioners have different training and education based on their treatment specialty. An acupuncturist’s training will be very different than that of a biofeedback therapist.

Though there are no national licensing standards, and some states do not have licensing regulations in place for complementary and alternative medicine practitioners, certification and licensing are becoming more common in the CAM field. Fortunately, there are ways to assess the treatment quality of a potential CAM practitioner. Contact the state, county, or city health department for help in determining whether a practitioner's qualifications meet the state's standards for training and licensing.

Once a practitioner is located, it is advisable to ask questions about their credentials, training, and education. Examples of questions are:
  • Where did you receive your training?
  • What licenses and/or certifications do you have?
  • How long have you held these licenses and/or certifications?
  • What degrees have you earned?

Following are links to more specific information regarding licensing/certification of some of the most popular CAM specialties:

Certification for formally trained acupuncturists is through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, http://www.nccaom.org/ Medical doctors with a valid medical license and training in acupuncture can also obtain board certification through the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, www.medicalacupuncture.org. Organizations representing the profession are the American Association of Oriental Medicine, http://www.aaaomonline.org/, and the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, www.medicalacupuncture.org.

Ayurvedic Practitioner
There is currently no national standard for certifying ayurvedic practitioners. Graduates of an Indian ayurvedic medical program will have a degree of BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery), or DAMS (Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery). The National Ayurvedic Medical Association, www.ayurveda-nama.org is the national organization representing ayurvedic professionals in the US.

Chiropractors are certified through the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, www.nbce.org, and are licensed in all 50 states and many foreign countries. Their national professional association is the American Chiropractic Association, www.acatoday.org.

Chinese Herbalists
Certification is through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine,
http://www.nccaom.org. Currently, Chinese herbalists do not have to be licensed to practice in the US. The national organization of Chinese Medicine is the American Association of Oriental Medicine,

The National Board of Homeopathic Examiners, www.nbhe.org, is a multi-disciplinary examining and certifying board for homeopathic professionals. Certification is also offered through the Council for Homeopathic Certification, www.homeopathicdirectory.com. The national organization for homeopaths is the North American Society for Homeopaths, www.homeopathy.org.

Massage Therapists
Board certification is through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, www.ncbtmb.org. The professional organization for massage therapists is the American Massage Therapy Association, www.amtamassage.org.

The certification exam is administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners www.nabne.org, and their professional organization is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, www.naturopathic.org.