A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone who thought I was a Naturopathic Doctor, and I am not. Just the other day someone else asked me the same question, so I decided to make it the topic for this week.
While I work with people to help them achieve their health goals, feel better about themselves and their lives, and improve their well being, I do not diagnose. I can work with people independently, or I can partner with a Naturopathic Doctor or a conventional or allopathic Medical Doctor, and help create programs for their patients to improve their health and being. However, Naturopathic Doctors work similarly to Medical Doctors, and Naturopathic Medicine also involves a four-year study program, along with residency. But, there are a few differences between Naturopathic Medicine and conventional medicine, as you will gather from this article.
1. Origins of Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic medicine started on the belief that healing encompassed the use of natural means of treating a disease or condition. The original concepts in the Western world started in Europe but were brought to America by Benedict Lust in the late 1800s, who was entrusted to introduce America to hydrotherapy (Gale, 2014; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). He was following the teachings of Sebastian Kneipp who believed in the healing powers of water. Naturopathic medicine is based on the idea that one can harness the power of nature in order to heal the body. In addition to water, these natural resources include consumption of healthy foods, avoidance of toxic foods, adequate home and family life, positive thoughts and feelings, nutrition, physical manipulation, exercise, and stress management, among others (Gale, 2014; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
2. Naturopathic Medicine is Based on Vitalism
The philosophical foundation of naturopathic medicine lies in the unity and harmony of nature, humanity, and spirituality or God. This stands in contrast to allopathic medicine, which is based on the treatment of the condition. This philosophical contradiction can be best explained through the concepts of vitalism versus mechanism, where vitalism signifies naturopathic medicine and mechanism signifies allopathic medicine (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
The mechanism view in allopathic medicine is based on form and function, and takes a view that is reductionist because it looks at a linear relationship between cause and effect (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). In other words, it believes that a disease can be attributed to an identifiable cause, and treats the disease by seeking this cause or source and treating that source. For example, if a person were to be suffering from a stomachache, and the diagnosis showed the person is producing too much acid, they would likely be prescribed an antacid. Treatment can be quick and swift, and is based on efficiency.
On the other hand, the vitalism view that Naturopathic Medicine has is based on looking at the entire being in a holistic view, considering that there are a number of factors that work in a complex fashion to create a disease or condition (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Thus treatment is not straightforward because a myriad of circumstances need to be considered in order to heal the being. This same person suffering from a stomachache would be considered far deeper than merely treating with acid reduction. Naturopathic treatment would delve into what could be happening in the person’s life that is contributing to increased acid production. It would look at various factors including nutrition, lifestyle, psychological condition, and other factors, and after gaining a comprehensive view of the individual it would determine a treatment or set of treatments and lifestyle changes and adjustments. The approach is to teach the person to take charge of his or her own health, and thus treatment can take longer to take effect. This also helps the person prevent other disease conditions. And, this is where a health coach, like myself, would come in to play, as we would work with the person to help them achieve these changes.
3. Goal of Treatment in Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic medicine seeks the form of treatment that is the least invasive and produces the least side effects. In contrast, allopathic medicine may use an invasive approach, such as surgery, if it provides the most immediate cure or solution. The approach in Naturopathic medicine is more patient, as its goal is to stimulate the body to heal naturally (Gale, 2014).
There are many forms of therapies can be incorporated in Naturopathic care. One such is aromatherapy, which entails using of essential oils for their therapeutic effect. Herbal medicine uses herbs for their therapeutic value and properties. Homeopathy has a long historic standing, particularly in India, and uses animal, plant, and mineral sources to produce diluted remedies that treat a condition. Others include massage, nutrition, physiotherapy, exercise, acupuncture, nutraceuticals, and many others. The idea is to use a comprehensive set of treatments to provide the most comprehensive and holistic healing for the patient.
If you are interested in seeing a Naturopathic Doctor in the United States, you can do so on the website link below. Keep in mind that only a few states provide licenses for Naturopathic Doctors, and these include Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. Other countries offer Naturopathic care more readily, including Canada, China, France, Germany, India, and the United Kingdom.
Gale (2014). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, (4th Ed). Farmington Hilla, MI: Gale Cengage Learning.
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.