I should begin by saying that the term "gatekeeping" here that I am referring to is about the accusation that someone is controlling information, not the other definition I've seen involving invalidating someone's experience because it is not their definition of that experience.
I also need to say that not all herbal programs, (and therefore herbalists), are the same or have the same training.
There are some herbal certifications you can get online that will give you a piece of paper that allow you to recommend herbs to clients after a few short weeks of study.
I also have a piece of paper, which is a master's in science. I went through a 4-year degree program, during which I studied complicated ancient Chinese and modern biomedical diagnostic and treatment methods, as well as completed thousands of hours of hands-on education.
And then, there is what I call "Google Herbalism".
This is the means by which we know colloquially that an herb is considered beneficial, for example lavender calming stress and St. John's Wort easing symptoms of depression.
Often, I see patients who are taking a wide range of herbs and supplements, who may have been recommended to take them by a friend or looked up supplements themselves online. Information these days flows from everywhere, and it's easy enough to google yourself into and out of a philosophy in the same day.
There is a lot of trouble with this, one being a significant lack of important training.
Often, practicing google herbalists will call me and ask, "what's your herb for joint pain?" and I'll get to tell them that I have hundreds of herbs that might treat joint pain, the key is understanding why and how they work in different cases.
The act of seeing a licensed and board-certified herbalist, especially one trained in Chinese medicine, involves connecting all of your symptoms and understanding how hundreds of herbs potentially work together to address your root issues. There is a complicated examination process involved, taking years to learn and master as a practitioner.
Again, this "gatekeeping" definition that I'm addressing refers to holding information secret, so that people cannot attain it themselves, and must go through you for answers. Recently, I have seen a bit of backlash against herbalists who are accused of doing this with herbal medicine.
This is, however, often for your safety.
Firstly, the big problem with Google herbalism is that at least, it does little to nothing to resolve your symptoms. This is because you are not taught to understand why you're experiencing your issues, and what the mechanics are that will help to alleviate them. If you are taking handfuls of herbal supplements and still having symptoms, it's time to talk to a professional herbalist.
Secondly, without understanding your diagnosis, literally any of hundreds of herbs might help you. There is no one herb that will fix everything for you. To tell you to take something without evaluating you first is malpractice. And you'd be surprised; though herbs have significantly fewer side effects than pharmaceuticals, some can be quite dangerous. There is often a minimal dosage change that can turn something from ineffective to poisonous.
Thirdly, unless you would like a complicated lecture on herbal medicine and understanding how all of Chinese medicine works, there is only so much that can be communicated in one treatment or consultation. Part of the importance in seeing a licensed herbalist is understanding that they do have the knowledge and training under your belt; you are seeing them specifically for their expertise. I work with every patient to explain the process and expectations from their treatments, so if you have any questions about anything your herbalist is doing, please ask!
As a licensed herbalist, I understand that there are seemingly countless amounts of misinformation out there, especially about herbal medicine. It is a surprisingly complicated area of study, contrary to popular belief, and as an expert, I'm here to help you understand it, guiding and keeping you safe through the process.