Nutritional therapists work with individuals to alleviate and prevent ailments by making dietary recommendations. Their focus is on the belief that there are nutritional and biochemical imbalances in the body that lead to ill health.

They make recommendations to restore balance, which may include guidance on avoiding certain toxins and allergens, detoxification and the use of supplementary nutrients such as high-dose vitamins.

Nutritional therapy can be used for people with chronic health conditions or those who want to improve their general health and lifestyle.

It is classed as a complementary medicine and may be used alongside conventional treatment, meaning nutritional therapists often have contact with other healthcare professionals.

Responsibilities

Nutritional therapists primarily work with clients in a private practice. Tasks are likely to include:

  • conducting one-to-one confidential consultations, initially of about 60 to 90 minutes, to assess the client's current health problems, medical and family history, diet and lifestyle;
  • running shorter follow-up review meetings, depending on the complexity and severity of a client's condition;
  • explaining the physiological impact of complex biochemical imbalances and nutritional deficiencies to help the client understand their condition, assessment and treatment plan;
  • recommending laboratory tests, which give indications of nutritional imbalances, the functioning of the liver and the digestive system;
  • agreeing on a personalised nutrition and lifestyle plan, which will include dietary recommendations, and may also include a nutritional-supplement plan based on an analysis of the condition and laboratory results;
  • writing comprehensive notes from questionnaires and open discussion, creating confidential reports with recommendations for clients and keeping all records on computer to track progress;
  • running a business, with responsibilities for marketing and publicity, maintaining an appointments service, invoicing clients, keeping accounts for tax and insurance purposes, and negotiating the rental of suitable premises.

Salary

  • Nutritional therapists usually charge between £40 and £120 for first consultations and then £30 to £100 per follow-up consultation.
  • Salaries are likely to be low to begin with until the practice is established.
  • As work is usually on a self-employed basis, income largely depends on the number of clients, the frequency of consultations and the number of hours worked.
  • Income can depend on geographical area (in terms of demand and local competition) and also on factors such as reputation and self-marketing skills.
  • Not all therapists manage to make a living solely from client consultations. It may take several years to build up a client base and peaks and troughs in demand may be experienced.

Income figures are intended as a guide only

Working hours

Self-employment is common and offers a choice of working hours. Early morning, late evening and weekend appointments may need to be provided to suit the need of clients.

What to expect

  • Work is generally carried out in private practice, which can include running a clinic from home. A mobile service may be offered where assessments are made at the client's own premises, although this is less common.
  • Opportunities are available throughout the UK. Practices may be set up to complement another service such as a health food outlet, or alongside other holistic therapists in a healing centre.
  • There is often a high level of job satisfaction, though the holistic nature of the work requires in-depth interaction with people, so the ability to keep a professional distance is important.
  • Stress might come from the pressure to generate an income with financial stability in a competitive marketplace, in addition to the responsibilities of self-employment.
  • Travel within a working day may be required if a mobile service is being provided, particularly in a rural area, although for most travel is minimal.

Qualifications

There are no specific entry requirements to become a nutritional therapist and entry without a degree is common.

However, it is useful to complete a course in nutritional therapy, which is accredited by the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

Qualifications are available at various levels including degree, diploma and Masters. Course content varies, with some placing a different emphasis on dietary, naturopathic or biochemical aspects.

When choosing a course, do your research and check exactly what training providers are offering and what experience and qualifications they hold. Details of accredited courses are available at BANT: Training in Nutritional Therapy.

There is no statutory regulation for nutritional therapists but completion of an accredited course allows direct entry onto the voluntary register held by the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).

Being a registered nutritional therapist shows you have completed a recognised course and can help with your reputation when setting up a practice.

A degree or HND in one of the following subjects may be helpful to the work of a nutritional therapist:

  • dietetics;
  • food science or technology;
  • health studies;
  • human biology;
  • nutrition;
  • pharmacy;
  • sports science.

Skills

You will need:

  • the ability to communicate with a range of clients and build rapport;
  • listening skills and the ability to empathise without becoming emotionally involved;
  • a confident and professional approach to work;
  • time management skills;
  • problem-solving and analytical skills;
  • a logical approach to work;
  • report-writing skills;
  • self-motivation and the ability to work on your own and develop new skills;
  • business skills such as administration, marketing and finance.

Many therapists enter nutritional therapy as a second or third career. Life experience and interpersonal skills can be helpful as the ability to empathise and gain a client's confidence is crucial to a therapist's success.

It is useful to get student membership of BANT while you are training. This can provide networking and development opportunities as well as a supportive environment to discuss relevant topics.

Employers

Most therapists are self-employed. In order to be successful you need to develop and maintain a strong client base and reputation.

With experience, and depending on your area of interest, you may be able to establish links with local healthcare providers and receive referrals from doctors.

Occasional opportunities may arise with the National Health Service (NHS), mental health organisations and the prison service.

There are also opportunities in:

  • health promotion, healthcare support and healthcare sales;
  • sport and leisure;
  • recipe development - as advisers with manufacturers of food or suppliers of supplements and herbal remedies;
  • teaching, training or lecturing;
  • the media;
  • advising healthcare charities or commercial organisations (often on a project or consultancy basis).

Interest in nutritional therapy, as well as the demand for qualified nutritional therapists, has seen a steady growth over the years with the increase in media and public interest in the effects of diet and lifestyle on health.

Most nutritional therapists work in private practice as self-employed therapists, though some vacancies are advertised. For more information on setting up a business, see self-employment.

Register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) to appear in their searchable database of complementary therapists.

Details of advertised jobs are provided by professional bodies such as the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) to their members. They also allow members to list practice details on their website.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

There is currently no statutory regulation of nutritional therapy, but gaining professional membership and registering as a nutritional therapist with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) is important for career development.

The CNHC is the voluntary regulator for complementary healthcare. By registering you are demonstrating to the general public and other healthcare providers that you meet the national standards of practice in nutritional therapy and that you are willing to be held to account against those standards.

One of the main professional bodies in the UK is the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

They offer a structure for professional development which includes lectures, seminars and other events. Becoming a BANT member gives access to a variety of resources including:

  • educational resources - webinars, toolkits, learning modules and details of events and conferences;
  • knowledge sharing - articles, recommended reading and process-based guidelines;
  • evidence-based databases - free access to the National Standard Database and the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.

BANT also offers support with continuing professional development (CPD) including an online tool to help record CPD activities.

You will need to keep your training and knowledge up to date throughout your career in order to enhance your professional status and the profession as a whole.

Career prospects

Opportunities for progression vary depending on individual interest, expertise and willingness to undertake different activities.

In the first five years after qualification, it is likely you will concentrate on building up a solid client base and will develop your experience of dealing with different people. Geographical mobility can be important for career development, especially in more rural areas.

As you gain expertise you may develop a specialist area, such as:

  • arthritis;
  • asthma;
  • autism;
  • cancer;
  • eating disorders;
  • gynaecological disorders;
  • hyperactivity;
  • pre-conception care;
  • thyroid rebalancing.

You may also network with GP practices and midwifery services to take referrals for complementary therapy.

Within five years, if you have enough experience and appropriate skills, you may be able to consider lecturing in training colleges and universities and possibly on the international conference circuit.

In areas where local authorities actively support innovative approaches to public health, opportunities may exist in partnership with sports-development workers or health-promotion officers.

There may be the chance to work on a consultancy basis for healthcare charities or commercial organisations. Media-related activities may be available, such as specialist journalism (food writing or radio/television appearances), public relations or marketing.

A few successful therapists will become directors of thriving enterprises, employing other qualified therapists and administration staff.