Nutritional therapists provide personalised nutrition, dietary and lifestyle recommendations to help enhance an individual's health and wellbeing
As a nutritional therapist, your focus is on the belief that there are nutritional and biochemical imbalances in the body that lead to ill health. You'll therefore take a holistic approach to your clients, devising for them a personalised nutrition and lifestyle plan to help maintain their wellbeing.
This includes recommendations to restore nutritional 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 is classed as a complementary medicine and is intended for people who want to improve their general health and lifestyle through diet and nutrition, as well as those with chronic health conditions who may wish to see a nutritional therapist alongside other healthcare professionals.
As a nutritional therapist, you'll need to:
- carry out initial consultations on a one-to-one basis with patients to conduct an assessment of their health and get a detailed case history from them
- recommend and analyse laboratory tests, which give indications of nutritional imbalances, the functioning of the liver and the digestive system
- explain the physiological impact of complex biochemical imbalances and nutritional deficiencies to help your client and answer any questions they may have
- agree on a personalised nutrition and lifestyle plan, which will include dietary recommendations, and may also include a nutritional-supplement plan and changes to lifestyle
- conduct follow-up review meetings to monitor and evaluate patient progress
- help clients to understand the link between their diet and their health
- refer clients to other health practitioners, as appropriate
- keep confidential and comprehensive notes and records for each client
- provide advice and promote nutritional therapy to community groups and charities.
As most nutritional therapists are self-employed, you'll also carry out administrative tasks related to running a business.
- Most nutritional therapists are self-employed so your income will depend on factors such as the price you charge per hour, the number of hours you work, the number of patients you attract and your running costs and overheads.
- You're likely to charge between £40 and £160 for first consultations and then £30 to £100 per follow-up consultation. You may offer a range of consultation packages with varying prices.
- Fees charged will vary depending on a range of factors, including the length of the consultation (with initial consultations typically lasting longer) and your location. If you're based in London, for example, your earnings will be higher than nutritional therapists elsewhere.
Your income on starting out may be very low due to the initial costs of setting up a business and the limited number of patients readily available. Not all therapists manage to make a living solely from client consultations. It may take several years to build up a client base and you may experience peaks and troughs in demand.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Being self-employed means you can set your own working hours to a certain extent, although you may have to be flexible to suit your clients' needs. For example, you may choose to work some evenings or weekends.
Initial consultations will usually take 60 to 90 minutes in order to properly assess the client's current health problems, medical and family history, diet and lifestyle. Follow-up consultations typically last between 30 and 60 minutes. Appointments are typically four to six weeks apart, depending on the case.
What to expect
- You may need an additional job in the early stages of setting up a practice until your client base becomes large enough to sustain a regular income. The time taken to build up a practice varies as you'll need to assess the local market and raise awareness of your services.
- You'll work primarily with clients in a private practice. You could either work within a team of health practitioners in a practice or work on your own, renting a room.
- Opportunities are available in most areas of the UK. It's possible to set up a practice virtually anywhere.
- You're not likely to spend much time travelling or staying away overnight, although you may travel locally, for example if you're working from several locations. You may set up a practice to complement another service such as a health food outlet, or alongside other holistic therapists in a healing centre.
Nutritional therapy is not currently regulated by law and there are no specific entry requirements to become a nutritional therapist.
However, it's recommended that you register with an organisation such as the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), which is the UK-wide voluntary regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners. They provide a register of UK complementary healthcare practitioners, including nutritional therapists, and are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. Being registered shows you maintain high standards of practice and helps build trust with your clients.
To register with the CNHC as a nutritional therapist, you must complete a programme of training that meets the Nutritional Therapy National Occupational Standards and the CNHC Nutritional Therapy Core Curriculum. Courses are accredited by the Nutritional Therapy Education Commission (NTEC).
Training is available at degree, postgraduate diploma and Masters level. Course content varies, with some placing a different emphasis on dietary, naturopathic or biochemical aspects. Download a list of accredited courses.
If you have completed an accredited course at degree level or higher, you can apply for membership of the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy (BANT). All practising members must be registered with the CNHC.
Members of the Naturopathic Nutrition Association (NNA) who have completed an accredited qualification are also eligible to apply for registration with the CNHC.
If you have not completed an accredited course, it may still be possible to register with the CNHC if you have achieved at least three years' relevant experience at the level of the Nutritional Therapy National Occupational Standards.
Nutritional therapists who have completed training with an accredited course provider can also become members of other relevant professional bodies related to nutritional therapy, such as the Association of Naturopathic Practitioners (ANP).
When choosing a course, do your research and check exactly what training providers are offering, what accreditation they have, how long they've been established, how much clinical practice is available, and what experience and qualifications the teaching staff hold.
To become a successful nutritional therapist, you'll 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's a good idea to attend course open days and talk to current students to help inform your decision about starting a career in nutritional therapy. You could also arrange a visit to a practising nutritional therapist to talk to them about the role. It might be possible (with both the therapist's and client's permission) to sit in with a therapist during a patient consultation.
Experience of working with people, possibly in a related field such as nutrition, dietetics, food science or technology and pharmacy, can be helpful.
Student membership of relevant professional bodies can be useful while you're training. This can provide opportunities for networking and development as well as a supportive environment to discuss relevant topics.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Most nutritional therapists are self-employed. In order to be successful you'll 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. It may also be possible, if you are registered with the CNHC, to receive referrals from doctors.
Occasional opportunities may arise with the 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).
As most nutritional therapists are self-employed, jobs aren't generally advertised. It's down to you to publicise your services and to attract new clients through talks and presentations, your website, social media and by word of mouth.
If you've completed an accredited nutritional therapy course, you can register with the CNHC and appear in their searchable database of complementary therapists. Professional bodies such as BANT, the NNA and ANP also have searchable databases of their members. They also advertise jobs and opportunities.
You'll 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. You can find out about relevant events and conferences via professional associations such as:
- British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT)
- Naturopathic Nutrition Association (NNA)
- Association of Naturopathic Practitioners (ANP)
Membership of relevant professional bodies usually involves carrying out a certain number of hours continuing professional development (CPD) a year. Bodies provide a structure for professional development, which includes lectures, seminars, events and mentoring, as well as providing online tools to help record CPD activities.
Networking also plays an important part in developing your practice, and membership of professional bodies can be useful for making contacts and exchanging ideas.
Some of the accredited training providers offer postgraduate courses in nutritional therapy. There may also be opportunities to get involved in research.
Registering with the CNHC is important for career development and demonstrates to the general public and other healthcare providers that you meet the national standards of practice in nutritional therapy and that you're willing to be held to account against those standards.
Opportunities for progression vary depending on your own interests, expertise and willingness to undertake different activities.
In the first five years after qualification, you're likely to 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 specialise in an area of nutritional therapy, such as:
- chronic fatigue
- eating disorders
- gynaecological disorders
- pre-conception care
- thyroid rebalancing.
You may also network with GP practices and midwifery services to take referrals for complementary therapy.
With experience, you may want 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.