Nutritional Therapist

The Job and What's Involved

Nutritional therapists apply nutrition and health science to help people to restore and maintain good health. They work with clients to identify and eliminate stressful substances in the body, and to alleviate or prevent illness by choosing an appropriate diet.

Nutritional therapy is used to help a wide range of people, from children to adults, with a variety of conditions, including:

- Headaches and migraines
- Digestive problems
- Hormonal problems
- Fatigue
- Skin complaints, such as eczema
- Hyperactivity, depression and insomnia
- Joint problems, such as arthritis

There are several stages to nutritional therapy:

At the first meeting with a client, the therapist establishes the reason for the client seeking help.

The therapist then spends some time talking with the client to gain a greater understanding of the problem. The client is questioned to find out about their medical and family history, diet and lifestyle. The therapist may also examine the client's skin, hair, nails and tongue.

The therapist may use diagnostic tests to find out more. These are usually performed by specialist laboratories using samples of urine, stool, saliva, blood, hair or sweat.

The information gathered is used to identify the nutritional status of the client. This includes diagnosing any food allergies and intolerances, and other factors that could be contributing to specific health problems.

The therapist then recommends a tailor-made programme for the client. The programme suggests which foods to avoid and which to increase. It may recommend taking nutritional supplements. It may also suggest beneficial lifestyle changes for the client.

Self-employed nutritional therapists also have to market their services and keep financial records.

There are no set working hours. Nutritional therapists often offer early morning and evening appointments to fit in with clients' needs. Most nutritional therapists work part time and many combine this work with another job.

Client sessions vary in length. An initial consultation usually takes 60 to 90 minutes, while follow-up sessions can last for 30 to 60 minutes.

Nutritional therapists work indoors. They may work in their own home or a private practice clinic, or visit clients at home. A driving licence may be useful for those working at several locations.

Starting salaries may be around £16,000 a year. Most nutritional therapists are self-employed and incomes vary considerably. They charge clients for each session. Rates vary between therapists and can range from £40 to £110 for a first consultation, and from £35 to £90 for subsequent appointments.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most nutritional therapists are self-employed. Some work in group practices or with therapists from other disciplines. A few are employed by manufacturers of nutritional products, health and fitness centres or by private companies who wish to maximise the health of their employees.

The number of nutritional therapists has grown steadily and the British Association for Nutritional Therapy (BANT) now has around 1,550 members on its register. There are therapists throughout the UK, but most are located in London and the south of England. Opportunities for therapists are advertised in complementary therapy magazines and on the internet.

Education and Training

From October 2006, the Nutritional Therapy Council (NTC) is offering registration for existing practitioners. It will also begin to accredit courses for people wishing to enter the profession.

To be recognised within the profession it is important to achieve a qualification that incorporates the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Nutritional Therapy and the NTC's Core Curriculum. Candidates should check with course providers that they are working towards gaining accreditation by the NTC.

There are three levels of course that include a qualification that meets the NOS and the NTC's Core Curriculum:

Diploma Courses - most courses do not ask for academic qualifications, while some ask for A levels/H grades in chemistry or biology and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. All applicants must be able to cope with the biology and chemistry included in the courses.

Degree Courses - entry is usually with at least two A levels/three H grades, including chemistry and biology, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). Entry is also possible with a pre-degree nutritional therapy qualification considered to be at Foundation degree level.

Postgraduate Diploma and Masters Degree Courses - entry is with a degree or equivalent qualification in conventional or complementary medicine.

Entry requirements may vary, so candidates should check with individual colleges or universities.

There are also many short, basic nutrition and diet courses. They may provide a good introduction to nutrition, but are not sufficient to practise professionally as a nutritional therapist.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Diploma courses are offered at several private training colleges throughout the UK. Courses tend to be part time or by distance learning.

Three-year, full-time degree courses in nutritional therapy are offered at the Centre for Nutrition Education and Life Management (validated by Middlesex University) and the University of Westminster. Both courses can also be studied part time. Plaskett Nutritional Medicine College at Thames Valley University offers distance-learning degree courses. The University of Bedfordshire offers a two-year, part-time degree course as a top up from pre-degree nutritional therapy courses.

The London College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offers one-year, part-time courses that lead to a Postgraduate Diploma or Masters Degree in Nutrition for Healthcare Practitioners.

Nutritional therapists need to maintain their skills and keep up to date with new developments in the field. There are a number of short courses and seminars they can attend for this purpose.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Nutritional therapists should:

  • Be able to get on well with clients from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • Be able to gain clients' confidence.
  • Have a logical approach to problem solving.
  • Be able to maintain an emotional distance from clients' problems.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Have a reassuring manner.
  • Have good motivational skills.
  • Respect client confidentiality.
  • Know when to refer a client to a doctor or other health professional.
  • Have commercial ability, if self-employed.

Your Long Term Prospects

Progression for self-employed nutritional therapists usually means building up their business. To do this they need to establish a good professional reputation and have the necessary commercial skills.

Some therapists go into research or teaching, either wholly or combined with their work as a therapist.

Get Further Information

British Association for Nutritional Therapy (BANT),
27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3XX
Tel: 0870 606 1284

Nutritional Therapy Council (NTC),
PO Box 6114, Bournemouth BH1 9BL

The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health,
33-41 Dallington Street, London EC1V 0BB
Tel: 020 3119 3100

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