I would like to start off this "occasional column" on a subject near and dear to my heart with some information about one of the major US professional organizations for herbalists, the American Herbalists Guild, http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/ and its certification program.
The American Herbalists Guild (AHG), founded in 1989, and the only peer-reviewed organization for professional herbalists in the U.S., has set up its own system of standards for certifying herbalists as "professional members." The AHG has also just begun publishing the semi-annual Journal of the American Herbalists Guild in 2000.
Unlike in Europe, and specifically in Great Britain, there is no standard training and certification program for herbalists in the US. As would be expected, this makes finding a competent herbalist somewhat problematic for the client. Currently, to attain status as an American Herbalists Guild professional member, the herbalist must successfully undergo an admissions review process by a group of peers to assure that a relatively high level of competency, education, and experience has been attained. American Herbalists Guild members have specific continuing education requirements and follow a code of ethics. To be certified, an herbalist must prove a minimum of four years of clinical experience, and submit three letters of reference from professional herbalists. Professional American Herbalists Guild members can be identified by the term "Herbalist AHG" after their name (some herbalists simply use "AHG" after their name). The AHG is planning to develop a National Certification Examination in Botanical Medicine in conjunction with the Botanical Medicine Academy, and change the professional member category to "registered herbalist" and "certified clinical herbalist."
The American Herbalists Guild provides additional guidelines for choosing an herbal practitioner by suggesting that those seeking the care of an herbalist should: "ask for a full disclosure of the practitioner's training, experience, practice protocols, expectations, modalities employed, potential financial conflicts, fee structure, and limitations." This is certainly a valuable guideline for choosing any health care provider.
Many herbalists object to the AHG standards and certification program, and an article just appeared in the July/August issue of Herbs for Health by Lauel Vukovic entitled, "Should your Herbalist be Certified?" I recommend this article to anyone interested in this area, and would gladly share it with you.
Other established programs of certification include the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH), a highly respected professional herbalist organization in the United Kingdom. Professional members must have graduated from a specific, medical herbalist training program, must adhere to specific requirements for active membership, and must follow a code of ethics. These herbalists are some of the most well trained Western herbalists in the world. Professional herbalist members of the Institute are identified by the acronym "M.N.I.M.H." after their name.
The National Certification Council for Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) administers an annual certification test specifically for practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Most of these professional herbalists have graduated from a complete training program in TCM and are trained as primary health care providers. These herbalists are identified by the use of "Diplomate in Chinese Herbal Medicine" (Dipl. CH NCCAOM) after their name. Traditional Chinese medicine is a licensed profession in 27 states. Herbal medicine is also an integral part of TCM training programs in most states. Licensed acupuncturists are typically identified by the use of "L.Ac." after their name.
There are three officially recognized colleges of naturopathic medicine in the United States, which are accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) of the U.S. Dept. of Education:
Graduates of these programs are fully trained primary care providers. Botanical medicine is a primary modality of naturopathic physicians. Naturopathic physicians are identified by the use of "ND" after their name. There are other less recognized schools of naturopathy including both residency and correspondence programs, and so consumers need to check on the training of a naturopath. NDs are licensed to practice in 13 states which do not include New York or New Jersey, so unregulated practitioners may be calling themselves "naturopaths" in these other states. The states on the east coast, which license NDs, are Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.
Please let me know if you have any questions, or have specific topics you would like to see covered, particularly in the area of Western herbal medicine. For the next column, I propose to write about the White Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (WHCCAM).
With All Good Wishes and
In the spirit of the Green Nations,