Becoming an AHG Professional Member
It is the hope of the American Herbalists Guild that there can be herbalists easily accessible in every community so that individuals seeking healthy and natural alternatives and complements to conventional medical therapies can find the type of care for which they are looking.
Becoming an AHG Professional Member
AHG professional membership exists as a way for herbalists to demonstrate a core level of knowledge and experience in botanical medicine practice that is recognizable as a meaningful standard to themselves, to the general public, and to other health professionals and institutions. Those who achieve professional member status may use the designation RH (AHG) or Registered Herbalist (AHG). But how does one go about becoming a professional member? This is a question we are frequently asked. Hopefully this article will explain the process and clear up confusion that sometimes arises for those seeking to apply.
The Application Process
The process of applying for professional membership requires several hours of your time and effort, but is really quite simple. When you feel ready or when it is suggested by a teacher that you have met the criteria for professional membership, you simply request the application from the office (for which there is a $10 fee). The application consists of a variety of questions about your practice as well as clinical scenarios for you to respond to. In addition, you are required to submit three comprehensive case histories from your practice, and three letters of recommendation from your primary herb teachers or other herbalists or health professionals (preferably but not necessarily herbalists) with whom you have a working relationship. These are all collected by you and submitted along with your application and a non-refundable application fee ($75 for members, $125 for non-members). The applications are reviewed in the AHG office to make sure they are complete, and are then copied and sent to the five members of the Admissions Committee for review.
Applications can be requested at any time by emailing the AHG office. The application process operates on a cyclical basis: Every three months we send out the application to a new group of candidates; at the same time we are receiving completed applications from the previous group. As a result, each candidate has three months to complete and return their materials to the AHG office. Should a candidate submit a completed application within this time-frame but lack one or more letters of recommendation, we will hold the application for up to three months to allow extra time to obtain these.
Once received by the Admissions Committee, applications are reviewed for a set of 15 specified objective criteria. Each of these criteria is evaluated on a 1-5 Leikert scale, and a score is determined for the applicant. David Winston, the current Director of Admissions reviews all scoring for consistency and contacts admissions committee members if there are any questions or concerns about a review or an applicant. He then collates the individual scores to determine whether the applicant has been accepted as a professional member. A minimum score in each category, and an overall score must be achieved to be accepted as a professional member. This process typically takes 8-12 weeks.
All of the completed and scored reviews are then sent to the AHG main office. Those applicants that have clearly not been accepted are informed of this and are sent a summary of their scores so that they can understand the reason for non-acceptance and what areas to work on for future application. Any candidate who is close to meeting the minimum score but does not quite meet it for one reason or another, is sent a letter informing them that they have a one-year grace period in which to meet any missing criteria. At the end of one year, if they are able to demonstrate that they have met these criteria, they are then accepted without having to go through a re-application process. If they do not meet the criteria during the grace period, their professional membership is declined and they must reapply in the future.
The AHG developed this admissions-review process in order to assess the basic competency of herbalists with diverse herbal training and experience. Other professions need not have such a process because competency is measured through having completed a standardized form of training with built-in measures of academic and professional achievement through diplomas and licensing examinations. The AHG honors competency no matter how it is attained and this review process reflects this commitment.
Download Criteria for AHG Professional Membership. The following is a summary and explanation of the criteria:
In order to be eligible to apply for professional membership, one must already have completed a minimum of two years of comprehensive academic training (whether through independent or formal education) in botanical medicine AND a minimum of two years of clinical training (through independent practice, formal mentorship, or clinical supervision or a combination thereof) and clinical experience totaling at least 400 hours, with at least 100 different clients in a two-year period. Clinical work must encompass more than just casual consultations with family and friends, and must include full client history intake, assessment, and follow-up care. Working in a health food store in the herb department, even if you are dispensing herbal information on a regular basis, does not count as clinical work unless it includes full intake, evaluation, and formal follow-up. It is also understood that while treating common colds and other simple problems is part of herbal care, it is expected that those applying for professional membership will have more broad and comprehensive experience than this. It is important that you can demonstrate your clinical work through carefully kept client records.
Because it can be difficult to gain clinical training in herbal medicine, the AHG has established a formal mentorship program. Whether or not you decide to take advantage of this program to gain clinical training, the Mentorship Handbook provides a valuable framework for documenting your clinical experience, client interactions, and suggests a wealth of ways to obtain clinical experience.
Differential assessment system:
In order to become a professional member you must be able to demonstrate, in writing, a system of differential assessment that you use in clinical practice. This system must be an established tradition that is recognized by the AHG Admissions Committee. This includes a western biomedical model, Chinese, or Ayurvedic model, or a traditional model (i.e. Cherokee medicine) as long as you can demonstrate that you are thoroughly knowledgeable about and consistent in applying this system. Assessment systems that are not evaluated by the Guild are delineated on the application criteria form, and include but are not limited to iridology, applied kinesiology (muscle testing), intuitive diagnosis, and hair analysis. Common assessment measures include (but may not, and are not limited to) tongue and pulse diagnosis, observations about a person's vitality, clearness of eyes, general demeanor, health of the skin or hair, and quality of the voice or their manner of speech, including clearness of thinking, and energetics (ex: hot, cold, damp, dry, excess, deficient, asthenic, sthenic). This process is often called "differential assessment," where you bring together all of these observations, answers to personal health questions, including, most importantly, a clear idea about their present symptoms, and make a preliminary assessment, based on the individual that you are working with.
Hippocrates said 2000 years ago "It is more important to know the person that has a disease, than the disease a person has"
It is expected that you demonstrate a working knowledge of a wide breadth of materia medica (it is suggested that applicants know 150 plants.) This is demonstrated through the sophistication and elegance with which formulas are developed in your application. It is not specified which plants you should know, nor is it necessary that the materia medica be western herbs.
Applicants for professional membership are also expected to have a basic working knowledge of the plants in their geographical region.
Code of Ethics:
Applicants must sign the AHG Code of Ethics before they can be accepted as professional members.
Guidelines vs. Requirements
There is some general confusion between what is required by the AHG for professional membership and what is recommended by the AHG for professional members (and clinical herbalists in general) to know. The requirements are spelled out above and relate to clinical experience, knowledge of materia medica, and the ability to use a system of differential assessment in practice.
In addition, it is recommended, but not required, that AHG professional member applicants have achieved a core curriculum or study, including basic health sciences (i.e., biology, chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology). Again, these are not currently required for professional membership. These guidelines are delineated in the AHG Educational Guidelines which were created so that those studying herbal medicine, whether through a school or independently, could have a sense of what is considered by the AHG to constitute a comprehensive botanical medicine education.
The AHG has an expedited process for professional membership. This process is open to those herbalists and health professionals that have met a standard of training in botanical medicine that is at least equivalent to that required for professional membership, including but not limited to: members of the National Institutes for Medical Herbalists (MNIMH), those certified in Chinese herbal medicine by the NCCAOM, and those certified or licensed as herbalists in other countries (i.e., New Zealand, Australia). Further, graduates of four-year naturopathic programs who have specialized in botanical medicine may apply under the expedited process. This process allows the experienced applicant to submit a letter of intent, a curriculum vitae (resume), proof of certification (or equivalent), two comprehensive case histories from their own practice, and a letter of recommendation. These materials are emailed to the AHG Office which then forwards them to the Director of Admissions. If approved, the applicant is invited to join as a professional member. If there is any question about the application, the applicant may be contacted or the application may be sent to the other members of the Admissions Committee for review. If not accepted under the expedited process, the applicant is still eligible to submit the full professional membership application. If you are unsure whether you are eligible for the expedited process, call the AHG office and we will help you sort out which application process is most appropriate for you.
The AHG Admissions Committee hopes that the Professional Membership application process for the Guild is rigorous enough that achieving professional membership is meaningful to the individual applicant as well as to those seeking the services of our professional members, yet straightforward enough not to cause applicants undue stress or confusion. We welcome your questions, comments, and insights. It is the hope of the American Herbalists Guild that there can be herbalists easily accessible in every community so that individuals seeking healthy and natural alternatives and complements to conventional medical therapies can find the type of care for which they are looking.
View Becoming an AHG Professional Member, a webinar with Michael Tierra and Althea Northage-Orr, members of the AHG Professional Admissions Review Committee: