The healing arts are a group of holistic, alternative, and nonmedical practices, which practitioners claim promote health and well-being.

The healing arts include a wide range of practices, including chiropractic, art and music therapy, acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy, naturopathy, Reiki, tai chi, and numerous other practices. They may also include creative expressions in healing, especially as a part of medical care. For example, a psychotherapist may offer therapy outside, or an addiction clinic might offer hikes.

Practitioners may also refer to the healing arts as alternative medicine or complementary medicine. Alternative medicine is another option besides standard treatment, while complementary medicine is an additional form of treatment that a person can use alongside traditional Western care.

Americans are increasingly turning to the healing arts. For example, in a 2015 Gallup poll, about two-thirds of Americans said chiropractic could treat at least some types of pain. Some doctors may even recommend healing arts as a complement to standard care.

People who choose healing arts should consider the role of these practices in their care. However, they should only work with trained providers who encourage them to pursue standard medical treatments rather than asking them to replace typical treatments with healing arts.

A person using ice, a form of the healing artsShare on Pinterest
knape/Getty Images

The healing arts include a vast array of practices. Some are increasingly mainstream, such as acupuncture and chiropractic, while others remain on the fringe, such as energy healing.

Healing arts have the designation “art” because they do not follow traditional medical protocols. However, this does not mean they are ineffective. A number of studies suggest some healing arts may improve outcomes, especially for issues that Western medicine struggles to treat effectively, such as chronic pain.

For example, some studies state acupuncture may help with chronic pain from migraine and osteoarthritis. However, many acupuncture studies do not use well-controlled methods, do not compare acupuncture to a placebo, or find that real acupuncture performs no better than sham acupuncture.

The effectiveness of healing arts for resolving health problems varies. Reiki, for example, claims to manipulate energy fields in the body, but there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that such fields exist.

The following are some types of healing arts.


Chiropractors use manipulation techniques, such as moving portions of the body back into alignment. Many of these manipulations focus on treating the spine.

Chiropractors need to have a license in the state in which they practice. State licensing requirements vary, but many states require a college degree. Chiropractors also need to study at a chiropractic school, which takes 3 to 4 years. Some chiropractors seek additional training in specific challenges or patient groups, such as by taking classes on chiropractic and pregnancy.

A licensed chiropractor has the title of doctor of chiropractic.

Learn more about chiropractic.

Traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) uses many different methods, including herbal medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, and tai chi.

Acupuncture uses needles to redirect energy in the body, while acupressure involves placing pressure on specific pressure points to accomplish the same goal.

Acupuncture may help with some chronic pain conditions, but there are also risks, especially if a practitioner uses dirty needles or injures an organ.

Education and training requirements vary for acupuncturists but generally require that people attend acupuncture school and apply for a state license.

Other TCM practitioners may not require formal licensure but often have education in their chosen field. A tai chi practitioner, for example, may train under a respected tai chi expert.

However, it is important to note that TCM practitioners are not medical doctors.

Mind-body therapies

A wide range of mind-body therapies aims to promote relaxation. Some claim to heal the body by healing the mind, and others work to increase mindfulness of the body. For example, biofeedback trains a person to notice subtle changes in bodily states, so they can increase mindfulness and better control those states.

Meditation, hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, breathwork, and guided meditation or imagery are also mind-body therapies.

Practitioners of these therapies do not usually need a license and are not medical providers. However, some offer these therapies as part of an umbrella of services. For example, a psychotherapist might provide guided meditation, while a medical doctor might offer biofeedback services.

A range of certifications and training programs can teach people specific techniques for mind-body therapies.

Energy therapies

Energy therapies aim to redirect energy in or outside the body to promote healing or well-being. These practices often draw upon notions about energy within the universe or various spiritual practices.

In Reiki, one popular energy therapy, practitioners move their hands lightly just above a person to redirect energy and promote healing.

Because energy therapy does not usually involve changing anything about the body, practitioners do not usually need a license or any specific training. However, many organizations offer training and certifications in various forms of energy medicine.

Energy medicine practitioners are not medical providers. However, licensed medical providers may take additional classes in energy healing modalities, so a doctor could also be a Reiki master. Some hospitals and medical clinics may also offer energy healing.

Learn more about Reiki.

Massage therapy

Massage therapy uses massage and pressure to relieve pain.

Each state establishes its own licensing requirements. In general, massage therapists must undergo training to familiarize themselves with various massage techniques and avoid injuring clients.

Massage therapists can also pursue a National Board Certification. This requires them to take classes at an accredited school and gain 500 to 1,000 hours of massage practice experience. They must also complete a licensing exam.

There are many types of massage. Learn more about them.

Homeopathy and herbal medicine

Herbal medicine refers to a wide range of practices that attempt to use plants and herbs to heal medical conditions or complement medical treatments.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbal supplements, meaning anyone can recommend or take them.

Homeopathy, a popular type of herbal medicine, focuses on the belief that small doses of herbs that cause symptoms may actually reduce problematic symptoms. For example, an herb that causes nausea at high doses may counteract nausea at very low doses.

There is no single, specific path a person must take to practice homeopathy.

Some medical doctors or other clinicians, such as nurse practitioners, may recommend herbal remedies. Lay practitioners may also call themselves herbalists or homeopathic medicine experts.

Some professional organizations lobby for herbal medicine and offer formalized training. For example, 26 states offer licensure for naturopathic doctors. These professionals must complete a 4-year educational program and take a licensing exam.

Movement therapies

Qi gong, yoga, Pilates, and other movement-based arts offer exercise and stretching. Some practitioners also claim they can help heal some medical conditions. For example, yoga may support relaxation and help with some types of pain.

These interventions do not require any specific training to practice or teach, though many people pursue certification or other programs to conduct classes.

Creative practices, such as singing, dancing, drawing, painting, and other artist expressions, can be healing.

For example, a 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis suggests that music therapy in people with Alzheimer’s and dementia may improve quality of life, reduce depression, and boost brain function.

A person can pursue creative practices as stand-alone therapies, such as taking a writing workshop to help manage depression. Medical providers can also integrate these practices into other therapies, such as when a nursing home offers weekly music therapy.

Learn more about creative therapy here.

Mainstream healing approaches, such as medicine and psychotherapy, may incorporate creative practices and expression as a form of healing arts. Some examples of these practices include:

  • using symbolism and metaphors
  • dream interpretation
  • being out in nature
  • singing and music
  • using natural products
  • storytelling

For instance:

  • A psychotherapist might offer dream interpretations or therapeutic hikes.
  • A medical doctor might recommend natural products to complement prescription medications.
  • A massage therapist might use storytelling or metaphor to deepen the experience of each session.

Other modalities

A huge range of other healing arts may help people as they pursue healing. These arts do not usually require a license to practice or teach them, although an individual could train with various organizations that promote specific interventions. Some other approaches include:

The healing arts are not a replacement for conventional medicine. Instead, they can complement and potentially improve the care a person receives, so an individual might pursue healing arts while undergoing conventional treatment. Additionally, when no conventional treatment is available, they might choose an alternative therapy — anecdotally, many individuals claim that they do sometimes work.

In some cases, people use healing arts to counteract the effects of conventional medicine. For example, they might use relaxation techniques to cope with the pain of chemotherapy.

The healing arts may foster a sense of healing, offering a person more support than they get from a mainstream Western practitioner. This may foster a sense of health and healing beyond the benefits of the practice itself.

An individual who undergoes treatment from an acupuncturist or naturopath, for example, may find support from a practitioner who listens attentively and takes their concerns seriously. They may feel less frustrated, more at peace, and more hopeful about their prospects for healing.

Hope may also help heal. A 2020 study found that a greater sense of hope improved overall health, encouraged people to adopt healthy behaviors, and reduced the risks of dying from all causes.

In some cases, healing arts may act as placebos. A placebo induces improvements when a person thinks it will. Importantly, they actually work — a person is not faking their improvements with a placebo.

Some healing arts may also offer a distraction from the challenges and pain of their condition. A weekly tai chi class offers something to look forward to, an incentive to exercise, and in many cases, a chance to socialize with others.

Numerous practices fall under the umbrella of healing arts, and some have strong scientific support. And while others have only weak support in the form of a few poorly designed studies, others have no scientific support at all. There is no evidence that healing arts can fully replace conventional care.

However, the healing arts may complement care, ease pain, and help a person feel more in control of their own healthcare. In some cases, insurance may cover healing arts and doctors may recommend them.

Talk with a healthcare professional about how the right healing art form may promote healing and a greater sense of wellness.