What the difference between being a nutritionist vs health coach vs herbalist?
This post is from guest writer Lori Valentine Rose, PhD, CNP, BCHN, FDN-P, RH (AHG), NBC-HWC of Lori Rose Holistic.
I am so excited for the opportunity to tell you how to turn your passion for whole foods and holistic living into a career, or how to choose a holistic health care professional to work worth.
When I first started my journey, I thought nutritionists and health coaches were pretty much the same thing, and I really had no idea what it took to become an herbalist. What I figured out is that while all of these holistic career paths have the same broad goal, there are some pretty big differences between nutritionists, health coaches, and herbalists. This including their scopes of practice and what you will learn in specific schools.
Even if you aren’t planning a career in one of these fields learning more about them can help you evaluate professionals you may want to work with.
I’m excited for her to share her knowledge with you again. Who knows maybe she will inspire you to take your love of real food to the next level, as a career.
Even if a career as a nutritionist, health coach or herbalist isn’t in your future knowing more about how these professionals could help you narrow your search and maybe even save you money!
What are the Differences Between a Nutritionist, Health Coach, and Herbalist?
Obviously, nutritionists, health coaches, and herbalists all have the broad goal of helping the client feel better, and because they employ a holistic mindset believe that the body heals itself if we can help the client get barriers to healing out of the way.
However, nutritionists are trained to focus heavily on food barriers, health coaches are trained to focus on lifestyle barriers, and herbalists are trained to focus on heavily using herbs.
These schools of thought all overlap a little, but you will get much more training in one area depending on which school you choose, and you get recommendations heavy in one area if you choose to work with one over the other.
Scope of Practice:
This is one area where I really thought there was a lot of overlap, but it turns out the scope of practice varies substantially, especially between nutritionists and health coaches. While none of these career paths can practice medicine as defined by the state they live in, there are some pretty big differences in what you can help clients with upon graduation from a nutrition, health coach, or herbal school.
The scope of practice for a nutritionist is to use knowledge of the effect of food on anatomy and physiology to create nutrition and supplement-based protocols designed to help clients address health issues. There is heavy training on biochemistry and supplements, some general herbal supplement training, some general lab assessment training, with a minor focus on lifestyle and stress management.
There is little to no focus on goal setting strategies, and sessions are generally the nutritionist providing a detailed protocol for you to implement on your own between sessions.
Contrary to nutritionists, health coaches do not learn a great deal about biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, or nutrition. Instead, health coaches focus heavily on learning how to conduct client-led coaching sessions by asking high-mileage questions.
These questions help clients identify their own personal strengths, and assist clients in using those strengths to achieve their self-decided lifestyle goals. This may or may not involve changes in food choices, and if it does the choice and implementation method comes from the client’s own ideas as opposed to long protocols developed by the coach.
Health coaches are not trained to identify lab patterns, or recommend supplements or herbs.
The scope of practice for herbalists is very similar to the scope of practice for nutritionists except the emphasis on the effect of herbs on anatomy and physiology replaces the emphasis on nutrition. Some herbal schools will include some training on nutrition and lifestyle changes, and some will focus only on herbal and supplement protocols for health issues.
Very few, if any, focus on goal setting strategies with clients, and clients leave with a practitioner-developed plan on how to use herbs for their health issues.
How do I Become a Holistic Nutritionist, Health Coach, or Herbalist?
There is a lot of confusion regarding licensing and legality of practice for the holistic field as a whole. This is because states get to choose licensing requirements for health practitioners, and so rules can vary depending upon where you live.
This means education requirements can also vary, and your education in one state may not even be recognized in another state. However, there are some generalizations that can be made about licensing and education requirements for holistic nutritionists, health coaches, and herbalists.
Licensing and Certification
At the national level, licensing in the nutrition field exists only for registered dieticians (RDs). However, RDs are not trained holistically and instead learn USDA-based, calorie restriction, weight loss, standardized, conventional schools of thought.
Since they are nationally recognized as licensed nutrition experts, they can accept health insurance. Becoming a RD requires a bachelors or masters-level of education as well as clinical hours and a board exam, and are allowed to diagnose health problems.
Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are recognized as alternatives to MDs in certain states. There is a growing trend for NDs to pretty much learn how to replace pharmaceuticals with supplements as opposed to truly holistically addressing a health issue (this is not true for all NDs or all ND schools, however).
In approved states, NDs can also diagnose, treat, and prescribe pharmaceuticals, and I have seen NDs that use conventional medications in the exact same way as MDs. Make sure if you go to an ND you know their philosophy and that it aligns with your goals.
Furthermore, there are some ND schools that award NDs with very little education or clinical experience. A robust ND school will mimic that of an MD school, including clinical hours and residency.
NDs can practice similar to nutritionists, herbalists, and health coaches in states that don’t recognize NDs as practicers of medicine, but they will not be able to diagnose, treat, or prescribe.
For the nutrition field, there are some states that require a license to give nutrition advice and to use the word “nutritionist”. It is crucial that you understand the laws in your state when offering nutrition advice to clients. In most states, as long as you are not calling yourself a dietician or practicing medicine as defined in your state, you can practice as a holistic nutritionist.
For herbalists and health coaches, as long as you are not practicing medicine you can practice legally in all states. Contrary to the common misconception, there are no “certified herbalists”.
None of these certifications/registrations allow you to take health insurance or serve as a license to practice, although the health coach advocates are petitioning congress to be eligible for recognition by insurance companies.
Education Requirements for Holistic Nutritionists, Health Coaches, and Herbalists
NANP-approved holistic nutrition schools range from 1-2.5 years of education, and NCBC/BCNS nutrition credentials are at the master’s level. ICHWC-approved coaching schools have the same time-length range, and there are many that expand to the master’s level but these do not have more advanced board certification options (yet).
There are so many different ways to be an herbalist, but the AHG has published guidelines on becoming a clinical herbalist which includes a minimum of 2 years of herbal education plus a minimum number of clinical education and experience hours.
How to Become an Herbalist
As I mentioned above, there is no such thing as a licensed herbalist, a certified herbalist, or a master herbalist. Some herbal schools may use these terms, but none of these are nationally, state, or regionally recognized.
There is only one national board for clinical herbal recognition, and they have detailed guidelines on minimum requirements to apply to become a nationally registered herbalist (RH) through the American Herbalists Guild (AHG). These requirements include both education and clinical hours, each with an outline of minimum hours of specific topics to be included in both the education and clinical portion of the training.
Unfortunately, most herbal schools only include either the educational component or the clinical component, but not both. Furthermore, those that do include both are generally in person, which hinders inclusion of students in other states that need to obtain clinical hours as part of their program.
I would like to point out that you can practice herbalism without becoming board-recognized as an herbalist, just like you can practice as a nutritionist-in certain states- or a wellness coach without becoming board certified. Board registration/certification just provides another level of confidence to your clients that might be looking for that sort of credentialing “proof”.
Should I Choose an Accredited School if I Want to be a Nutritionist, Wellness Coach, or Herbalist?
This was a topic I learned a great deal about both when looking for a school and when creating my own holistic school program. I want to cover the pros and cons of attending accredited schools, some that I didn’t even know about until students started to apply to my accredited school program.
In general, accreditation means some outside entity reviewed your school and recognizes it as a legit school at the regional or national level, and it really matters which level (regional or national or none) it is recognized at for various reasons.
Only accredited schools can accept financial aid and/or veteran’s benefits. This is true for both regionally and nationally accredited schools. The problem with holistic education is that most schools are not accredited and so cannot accept financial aid or veteran’s benefits, and when schools are accredited they are accredited at the national level. This leads me to my next point.
I recently learned about this from a student trying to enroll in my regionally accredited program from her nationally accredited program. Regionally accredited schools tend to be the more conventional colleges and universities with state-defined classes, lecture and lab hours, and curriculum requirements.
Regionally accredited schools tend to work with each other to maximize transferability between community colleges to four-year colleges, and from one college to another. This is made possible due to the standardized requirements from the state.
Most holistic/alternative schools tend to be accredited at the national level. These schools tend to create their own lesson plans and curriculum requirements, which are generally not transferable to other nationally accredited schools and don’t meet the state requirements of regionally accredited schools.
This means if you want to take your holistic nutrition, health coach, or herbal education and apply it to getting a conventional BS, MS, or PhD degree, many of your classes won’t transfer. This can lead to you having to retake and repay for classes you have already taken. This can be a huge bummer, because my next point is about the cost of most accredited holistic programs.
While all accredited schools can take financial aid and veteran’s benefits, it’s sort of a catch 22 because most of them are extremely expensive. I am talking 10s of thousands of dollars per semester expensive! This requires a decision between having to spend your own money at one of the more affordable schools, or use all of your financial aid at a very expensive school.
Furthermore, if you want to pursue more than one of these paths (nutritionist AND health coach AND clinical herbalist), you would have to attend multiple schools that cost multiple thousands of dollars, most of which aren’t accredited and if they are accredited cost 10s of thousands of dollars each.
If you are at the income range of being in between having the money to afford the education and qualifying for financial aid, then you might be completely financially excluded from the opportunity of pursuing this career path altogether.
I was raised in a very low-income family, and when I learned about this “holistic education is only for the wealthy” culture that is growing, I was not ok with it.
Is There a School That is Regionally Accredited, AND Affordable?
I happen to work at a regionally-accredited college in a low-income area with extremely affordable tuition. I also happen to be one of the only people crazy enough to obtain board certification/registration in all three of the discussed holistic pathways (nutritionist, health coach, and clinical herbalist) from over 5 different schools.
The frustration I encountered in choosing an affordable school that taught these three pathways all in one inspired me to create my own.
The Hill College Holistic Wellness Program
My position as a faculty member at Hill College allowed me create a completely integrated Holistic Wellness Program that allows students to pursue
- an Associate’s degree credit-based holistic program that includes
- the education and clinical requirements for application to three national boards (NANP, ICHWC*, and AHG)
- all in one place, in one program,
- all financial aid/veteran’s benefits eligible,
- with easy transferability to four year colleges thanks to regional accreditation, and
- for an affordable price (like at least 1/5th of the price someone would pay to obtain these 3 credentials independently from different schools),
- either in person or online.
Students can take just the 6 credit-based holistic wellness courses alone or part of another degree in a different field, or they can take the courses as part of a degree path to obtain an Associate of Science that can lead to more advanced nutrition certifications or be used to pursue additional fields of study.
Local students can take the program in person and work with our partner 4-year college upon completion, and distance students can take the entire program online.
The Hill College Holistic Wellness Pathway is so unique because students will be trained under all three holistic paradigms and will be equipped to help clients nutritionally and herbally, and know how to help them successfully reach their wellness goals through the health coaching skills they learn, all at an affordable price.
Clients who come to students of the Hill College Holistic Wellness Pathway won’t have to pay for 3 different holistic health professionals, because graduates of the program will be three professionals in one!
The program includes both the educational and clinical requirements for herbalism, as well as herbal medicine making and permaculture organic veggie and herb growing. I don’t know of any other analogous program in the entire country.
*While Hill College is an NANP-approved school, and offers NANP-approved internships, ICHWC has not opened up their application round for accepting coaching schools. However, the Hill College Holistic Wellness Pathway includes all of the new, updated requirements of the ICHWC and predicts expedient acceptance upon opening of applications at the end of 2017.
Hopefully these 5 topics will help you choose the best path for you on your journey to turn your passion for real food and plants into a new, fulfilling career, or help you find the right holistic health professional for your specific needs.
I wish you well on your journey!
She created, developed, and instructs the Hill College Holistic Wellness Pathway, the most thorough, affordable, degreed wellness program in the country. She blogs at Lori Rose Holistic, and has a video podcast here where she interviews people that have helped her truly embrace real mind-body-spirit holistic wellness.
She loves spreading love and light, and helping others feel awesome on the inside and out so they can live their dreams and make this world more awesome!