To someone looking for a life makeover, health and wellness professionals can seem like the perfect solution. Need to get motivated? Hire a personal coach! Your back is messed up? Go see a chiropractor! Want to sign up for a personal-training session? Your gym has the right pro for you!
You might think it's common sense to leave the expertise up to, well, the experts, but much of the health and wellness field isn't regulated. That means someone with access to Microsoft Word and a printer can create business cards touting a profession that is, more or less, bullshit. If you're not careful, you could put your faith into someone's hands who might end up making your health problem worse. Here are some of the biggest offenders.
Unlicensed massage therapists
Finishing a manicure or pedicure with a neck or back massage sounds like the cherry on top of a very relaxing, pampering sundae. After all, your nail technician is the one who just primped and pampered your hands, and gave you that soothing massage on your feet, complete with that pounding-on-the-calves thing.
But most cosmetologists in nail salons are only licensed to do nails, not give massages. The extra shoulder and neck rubdown at the end could end up doing more harm than good, considering the people doing the massaging more or less have no idea what they are doing.
If your favorite nail place offers massages, make sure the people doing the rubbing are licensed to do so; they should have posted certifications from the state, as well as an accredited program, such as the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). This goes for any other salon or spa that offers massages. And don't forget those massage parlors that are not-so-subtly fronts for a business that would do better in a red light district.
Chiropractors are technically supposed to help with back and neck pain, but their profession has been controversial since its early days toward the end of the 19th century. Not usually trusted by the medical community, chiropractors often perform procedures called spinal adjustments, or chiropractic adjustments, which have little rigorous scientific support. In fact, they were created by the founder of the whole field of chiropractic, a magnetic healer named Daniel David Palmer, at the end of the 1800s.
Chiropractors believe spinal problems called subluxations are the underlying cause of most medical issues, and claim that realignments can help with everything from back pain and headaches, to asthma and blood pressure. Unfortunately, there's some evidence of an association between chiropractic adjustment and strokes -- chiropractic strokes are enough of an issue that there's an entire awareness group aimed at spreading the message.
A 2003 study found spinal manipulative therapy of the neck can be a risk factor for strokes; patients who had strokes from a tear in the vertebral artery were six times as likely to have had a spinal adjustment in the 30 days prior to the stroke than patients whose strokes were caused by another reason.
That's not to say a chiropractor can't be helpful in some instances. Just, you know, be aware of what you're getting yourself into. And do your research. Like, very carefully.
Coaching is one of those unregulated words, like "healthy" and "natural," that people can slap onto anything, and the government can't say a word. While there are technically life-coach certifications, they tend to be broad and less than rigorous -- some last a couple hours on a weekend, others are a simple questionnaire online -- similar to getting a certification to be an ordained minister from the internet.
Although life coaches can be accredited, like through the International Coaching Federation (ICF), it's still an unregulated industry. As a result, the quality of coaches varies significantly; not everyone can be Tony Robbins. If you find someone you like and who gets you results, great! But there's no real guarantee that your personal or life coach will help you achieve your goals, and the cost of someone's services could add unwanted financial stress.
Yes, energy healing is a thing, and more people pay for it than you may realize. Energy healing is a broad term for an alternative medicine sect that focuses on tapping into the body's own energy. It's as generic as it sounds.
One common technique is reiki, in which a healer places his or her palms over your body (sometimes touching you, sometimes not) as a way to transfer energy. Reiki is usually performed while the patient is lying down, which is probably pretty relaxing in its own right, especially in a dark room where soothing music is playing. And since a session can run anywhere from $60 to nearly $300, reiki certainly isn't cheap. Becoming a certified Reiki I practitioner is as easy as signing up for an afternoon class and paying a couple hundred dollars -- the kicker is that some reiki practitioners offer "distance treatments," where you pay for them to perform reiki on you from afar. Yes, for real.
It's hard to quantify the benefits of doing reiki, which is why most studies on it are unreliable. That's not to say people don't find some benefit from it -- the placebo effect is real, and your mind has a powerful way of convincing itself of just about anything. It's also not necessarily harmful to do, just don't expect it to be a miracle cure for any physical or mental ailment. But if you have a few Hamiltons and about an hour to spare, give it a whirl!
There's something to be said for the mild therapeutic benefits of essential oils, and there's usually no harm in incorporating these lovely smells into your everyday life. But paying someone to literally waft scents your way smells more like BS than lavender; aromatherapists aren't regulated by the government. There are accredited programs through the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), but the NAHA literally states on its website, "we do not police schools," and it doesn't monitor each school's fees or their return policy. Basically, getting a stamp of approval from the NAHA is like candy claiming it's "made with real fruit!" It's clearly a worthless statement that's supposed to make you feel better for some reason.
Aromatherapists often insist essential oils can help with digestion, allergies, skin conditions, and even weight loss. There's no legit scientific evidence to support these claims. But smelling lavender is pretty relaxing, and eucalyptus could help you breathe a little better for a couple minutes, so there's that.
Personal trainers only certified by their gyms
To the untrained eye, deciphering personal-training certifications is like evaluating an alphabet soup of random letters, and it seems like anyone can just plop whatever acronyms they earned from a weekend workshop after their name. But there are four main high-level national certifications for personal trainers: NASM, ACSM, NSCA, and ACE, all of which require lots of studying, taking an exam, and being re-certified regularly.
But some trainers or fitness instructors are only trained to do so through the gyms where they work, which should be a major red flag. Make sure your trainer is certified from one of the main national boards. Taking the occasional spinning class from someone who's only trained at the studio is fine, but your go-to fitness pros shouldn't be people who have been certified at the very places that are encouraging them to sell their services.
Fitness "coaches," aka multi-level marketers
Not calling out any multi-level marketing companies in particular, but there are some that promise to help you lose weight and change your life by signing up with a fitness coach. Sure, lots of people may have success in losing weight on these programs -- just look at the before-and-after pictures! -- but the coaches themselves are actually glorified salespeople. They've done nothing except pay a sign-up fee and submit to brainwashing by their employers so they can make a convincing sales pitch. As "coaches," they’re there to keep you accountable on your workout and diet plan, but mostly to be sure you're buying a crap-ton of stuff they're selling.
If fitness and losing weight are goals you have, you're better off sticking to a certified personal trainer and/or registered dietitian... you know, people who have actual training and credentials. If those aren't in the cards financially for you, then recruiting a friend who shares your fitness goals to help keep you accountable will help you stay on track just as much as a mystery person behind a social media account.
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