I recently had a Facebook discussion with a fellow herbalist. We were both shocked by some of the things a so called herbal medicine page had posted. The article in discussion was advocating treatment that was outright harmful if not potentially dangerous in the guise of science.
It got me thinking about how people without medical knowledge choose a therapist. These things are not specific to herbal medicine, so whatever type of therapy we are considering they are questions to bear in mind.
1. What qualifications do they have?
Recently I've seen adverts for online courses on discount sites and on worldwide distribution sites. Whilst I am all for learning a bit more about topics such as herbal medicine, these courses do not qualify someone to treat a patient safely and effectively. The gold standard in the UK is a degree level course at a university or through a recognised training provider. A BSc in herbal medicine implies a high standard of medical knowledge and the ability to diagnose illness accurately. Similar qualifications exist in other areas. What is the gold standard of education for the therapy you are considering? What qualifications does your potential practitioner have and are they recognised in the UK?
2. Where are they accredited?
In many natural therapies, accreditation is voluntary. Unfortunately, this provides less protection for consumers who are frequently unaware of what bodies are there to protect them. For herbal medicine there are two main bodies. The oldest is the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and it is perhaps most highly regarded as it requires the highest standards to become a member. Another that holds similarly high standards is the College for Practitioners of Phytotherapy. For coaching and councilling there is the National Council for Psychotherapy. And there are others. My own experience of joining NIMH was shockingly thorough - from my academic record and CV to personal references of my standing. If you are considering a particular therapy, it worth researching what bodies regulate it, what qualifications and other stipulations are required to join and if your potential practitioner is a member.
3. What insurance do they have?
It is highly unlikely if you choose a highly qualified practitioner that anything untoward will happen. Equally, any good practitioner will also have insurance in case anything does happen. Being a member of NIMH and other accrediting bodies not only require practitioners to have full medical insurance but also have a strict code of ethics and conduct that practitioners must abide with. Does your potential future therapist advertise that they have insurance and what sort of insurance do they have? Does their professional association have a clear complaints procedure that you could use if needed?
4. Do they keep up with the latest research and training?
We are all busy (yes even therapists!) so finding time to keep our knowledge up to date is hard work. Yet it is essential to be a good practitioner. And it's not just medical knowledge either. Recently the law affecting herbal medicine in the UK changed and more changes affecting how we hold clinical records are imminent too. Knowing if your future practitioner has the latest knowledge about their practice and the law governing it can be a good indicator of quality. It shows that they care about their field and understand the importance of keeping their skills up to date.
5. Do they inspire you with confidence?
Assuming you are confident that your future practitioner meets the previous criteria the last, and perhaps most important, is how you feel seeing them and talking with them. A therapeutic relationship is a very personal thing and your therapist ought to inspire with hope for better health, leave you feeling optimistic and supported and above all make you feel respected and empowered to manage your health. After all, you are the most important person in this relationship.