When I first started in complementary health, the college I trained at pushed students towards being a member of the FHT, The Federation of Holistic Therapists.  We were told that being a member of the FHT, would ensure the public that you were a bona fide practitioner and that could help you get clients. One slight problem, the public had never heard of them.


They claim to be the largest professional body representing therapists which they might well be, except so do many other professional bodies and there are so many.


Just what is a practitioner to do and what does it mean for them anyway?

If you research (google) professional bodies for insert therapy name, a mass of different organisations with varying levels of requirements for membership, pop up. Each one making claims that they are this lead body or that lead body, each trying to outdo the level of training required but in varying ways.


If they are not ‘The’ lead body, they are ‘The’ largest body. The lead here, the lead in Europe – soon there will be one that spans the universe and guess what, the public will still not have a clue what they do or who they are or what it might mean re the practitioner.

They seem like quangos after quango’s paid for by ever increasing fees from practitioners that feel they should join them but often question why.


What do you get by being a member? Some offer discounts, some offer cheaper conference places, various financial benefits on things you very often don’t need anyway and if you didn’t pay the fee in the first place, you could use that towards your own chosen CPD (continual professional development) Sometimes there is access to a magazine – very often a self-congratulating piece of propaganda, featuring the same faces every quarter.


These organisations are nothing more than a mass of letters and acronyms – all claiming that being a member will enhance your professional status. CThA, CMA, BacP, BCMA, GCMT, NAMMT, APNT, SMA, CNHC, the list goes on. Each one costs money and you could end up spending a fortune.


So it was a real eye opener for me when I attended the recent Balens conference.  Balens are a UK based insurance company that have an ever growing foothold in the field of complementary therapy. One of the speakers gave a talk on what he called the Alphabet Soup of organisations.  What an appropriate title.


There are really 2 forms these organisations take.  The first are the professional bodies who claim to offer support to practitioners, often set up by practitioners and you become a member. They ensure their members meet the standards they set up. How? They may provide training and or CPD events and can represent practitioners if ever complaints are made against them.


Then you have the regulatory bodies. Now that sounds official and scary, but do they have any real clout? only if you are a member. Do you have to be a member? NO.  These are voluntary registers that might have government support and some funding; they say they are there to protect the public.


One such register is the CNHC, but if you google them, you find plenty of complaints from what were once members and plenty of members not renewing their membership.  You can set up any organisation you like, but if people don’t join it, then you have no organisation.  It seems numbers of the CNHC are falling. May be, like me, people are not keen to pay money to an organisation that are more about regulation than they are about the knowledge and understanding of therapies/therapists, they claim they represent.  It’s like paying for the stick for someone to beat you with and not support you fairly. They seem to set the scales against you.


Any weak links in a commercial world will naturally fall by the wayside.

Therapists are not medical practitioners, no one prescribes drugs and do not have ultimate responsibility for patients health, as we do not diagnose or treat specific illnesses.  The public visit a therapist because they wish to take a different approach to their wellbeing in general, it is not free and therefore if that practitioner is not helping or not providing the service that matches client’s needs, they vote with their feet and don’t go back. In this way, the industry takes care of inadequate practitioners naturally.  If people don’t use a certain store because it fails them, that shop will close.


When we decided to set up our own courses and thought about getting them accredited, we met with the same problems that practitioners face, on who to belong to.

Which professional body is best?  

It was a minefield, especially as one of our main courses does not fit into any of the existing models but strangely we had less problem getting this recognised than our more traditional courses.


I have to say the real low point was the organisation we have one of our courses with, the CHP, has aligned itself with the GCMT, the General Council for Massage Therapy.I was told they are ‘The’ leading body but they seem one of many.

We wanted to put through our Indian Head Massage course, but were told that we need to insist on a body massage qualification first before therapists could do this course.  I had never heard of anything so ridiculous. It was disappointing that even this new organisation had fell into the trap of not looking or questioning what these 'lead' bodies are asking.


Hence why nothing improves and the same old dogma gets repeated....It's laziness and assumption.  I had hoped that a new organisation would be on the ball and taking a fresh look.


Indian Head was brought to this country by Narendha Mehta, in the 1960’s it is part of the oldest medical system in the world, The Ayurveda system, which is thousands of years old.  The massage techniques that were being required before anyone could study Indian head are just about 200 years old.


So unless those that developed what we know as Indian Head massage, had a time machine, nipped forward and then returned to develop Indian Head, this request was nonsense and coming from ‘The lead body'. Absurd!


The school set up in London by Narendha Mehta himself, makes no pre-requisite.  So is this lead body declaring that his courses are not meeting the European standards, as he is not asking for body massage first. Without him, we might not have the therapy here to start with.

This is a typical example of these organisations, becoming so obsessed with their criteria; they have forgotten to look at the origins of the therapy in the beginning.

A group of 'experts' deciding on criteria - based on what? - Would Narendha Mehta not be allowed to have his own course recognised by them?  


To the credit of CHP, they did apply common sense once we had highlighted this odd scenario and accredited our course.  


So back to Balens.

What does a therapist actually have to do?

Well it turns out you do not have to register with any voluntary regulatory body. You do not have to join any professional body, and scarily, you do not have to have insurance.

You do however have to comply with trading standards.

You would, of course, be crazy to practise without insurance. We live in an increasing litigious world. If you have a complaint against you, your insurance company will take it up, you don’t need a professional body to do that. The legal team of the insurance company will take that on. You want to liaise directly with them , not through a third party.


If you are a dedicated therapist you will naturally want to keep your knowledge up to date. keep training and learning and work within health and safety guidelines. The more knowledeable a practitioner is, the busier they seem to be.


We decided that we would get all our courses insured through Balens, so that anyone wanting to practise can get their insurance through Balens too.


We are offering courses that we consider are a high standard, practical and in keeping with the ethos behind their origin. I have taught in an FE college for many years, teaching the courses of many different awarding bodies and their criteria, so we have kept our courses to those guidelines and beyond. Incorporating aspects some courses do not touch on.


We aim to help you become professional therapists and point you in the right direction to keep skills updated, and work within safe frameworks. We do not need to behave like medics; we just need to be safe practitioners.


I like what Balens are doing on the bigger stage and the last few conferences are better than any I’ve ever attended provided by ‘professional bodies’ over the years. The calibre of speakers has been fantastic. Balens are filling a void, raising awareness of diverse issues and involving themsleves actively in the progression of integrative medicine, promotion and development of complementary therapies.


I’m not prepared to join organisations that take your money and offer nothing of significance in return. Nor am I paying voluntary regulators money to buy that stick to beat anyone with.

I’m not saying don’t join, but be aware that you have choice and ask what you would gain by joining. Don’t be mislead by claims that you can work within the NHS etc in reality our NHS struggles to provide its own approach to health care. They are not going to suddenly find money to pay for alternative methods just yet.


Where our ethos and philosophies merge, we will work with professional bodies, but my experience of the Indian Head has made me question the basis on which they work from, however i was pleased to see they had the ability to resist the dogma and use common sense.


If and when there is one body, one authority, be it lead, biggest, European etc, and it actually is compulsory and carries real weight, then we can work to that. Until then, how on earth are therapists expected to know who is best and just how many fees do you pay out each year.

If and when that body is formed, let’s hope it is by people who are interested in the practise of complementary therapy and not just regulators. Please can it be formed with common sense and not try and regulate therapies as if they are medical interventions.


Many think therapies are pointless and of no real benefit – yet think they need regulating -bit of a paradox.  The moment compulsory regulation comes in; it would be recognition that therapies actually have the ability to do something.  Are the 'powers that be' ready to give that

level of recognition?

Just what do professional bodies do for you and is voluntary regulation for or against you?