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What is a Heilpraktiker?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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A heilpraktiker or “health practitioner” is a provider of complementary and alternative medicine in Germany. While these health professionals provide natural healthcare services to their clients, they do not have medical training or qualifications and cannot be considered doctors or medical practitioners. To work as a heilpraktiker, it is necessary to pass an examination administered by a local authority. The test primarily focuses on legal issues, rather than medical matters.

The origins of this profession lie in the 19th century, when an increasingly scientific approach to medicine began to rise. The health profession split into two groups, one focusing on scientific medical treatment, and the other employing natural healthcare techniques like hydrotherapy, herbs, and homeopathy. The natural health field grew quite large during this period and practitioners could be found in many regions of the world.

People who go to a heilpraktiker can receive a range of treatments. They practice homeopathy, hydrotherapy, herbal medicine, massage, and a variety of other complementary and alternative treatments. The lack of regulation in this field makes the qualifications of practitioners highly variable. Some people have committed to receiving high level training so they can practice competently and offer their clients a wide array of services, including referral to a conventional medical practitioner when it appears appropriate. Other people have limited training and their primary qualification is a passing score on the licensing examination.

Critics of the heilpraktiker system have argued that while complementary and alternative medicine have applications in society, it is important that health practitioners be regulated and monitored just like conventional medical doctors. The lack of oversight in this field is believed to be a danger, as patients may receive inappropriate care or delay medical treatment for serious disorders that cannot be diagnosed, managed, or treated by a heilpraktiker.

Advocates believe it is important to provide people with complementary approaches to medical care, and that some people may receive benefits from seeing a heilpraktiker. Studies estimate that approximately one in four Germans sees a heilpraktiker at some point during their lives to seek out medical care. Clients who seek out people with appropriate levels of training and skill can receive very good care, including admissions that they would be better served in a different clinical setting.

Many countries have natural healthcare providers of this nature, with varying degrees of regulation. Some nations require these members of the health profession to receive training and pass a stringent examination, while others have more lax rules and allow people to work in natural health as long as they don't have outstanding criminal records.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon994950 — On Mar 20, 2016

I just want to point out that I just took the Heilpraktiker exam and there was only one question out of 60 about the law. The other 59 questions were medical knowledge.

The exam is based on you being able to recognize a serious health issue in a client so you're no "threat to public health." So one basically has to have complete knowledge of physiology and pathology including conservative treatment of all diseases.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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