Naturopathic medicine is unique from other approaches to medicine because of its principles. These principles guide each and every client interaction. It is my hope that by explaining them a bit more deeply, it will help you get a better sense of what naturopathic medicine is.
1. First, Do No Harm
Hippocrates gets credit for coining this phrase. It appears within the Hippocratic Oath that all physicians take while in medical school. For naturopathic physicians, it means that we aim to use the least invasive and least toxic treatments when helping our patients heal. This principle reminds us to look toward the base of the pyramid of The Therapeutic Order before trying higher force interventions with our patients. The principle may seem obvious, but once you read my next post, you might not seem so sure.
2. The Healing Power of Nature
As I mentioned previously, NDs believe in the body’s inherent wisdom about how to heal. If the body is given the proper conditions for health, then the Vis can step in to help restore and maintain wellness in the system. So what is the Vis? It is tricky to define, but I will do my best. There are many ways of describing the Vis, but basically it is the thing that animates you: your spirit, your life-force, your inner-light, your soul. It is the thing through which profound healing and miracles can happen. Vitality and the Vis go hand-in-hand; therefore, if we do things that increase our vitality, we can subsequently increase our Vis.
So how can we start to become more vital? First, we can start off by creating the conditions for health. A more extensive post on this topic is coming, but basically these conditions including getting good daily nutrition, water, movement, and positive social interactions, among others. We can also partake in activities that fuel our soul. Maybe that looks like taking a walk through the woods with a friend, or curling up with a coffee and a good book. Maybe for you it is going on an adventure to a new place with people you care about, or maybe it is engaging in some sort of daily spiritual practice or meditation.
There are many ways to fuel your Vis, I would love to hear in the comments below how you fuel yours!
3. Identify and Treat the Cause
Naturopathic physicians do not view symptoms as disease, but the body’s way of trying to tell us what is the underlying cause of the illness. Therefore, when treating our clients, we do not focus our efforts on symptom suppression, but instead we aim to uncover what is giving rise to the symptoms we are observing. For example, if we have a client come to our office with high blood pressure, we would not view a lifetime prescription of blood pressure medication as a treatment for this person. Instead, we would uncover what in the person’s life is giving rise to their high blood pressure and focus on the ways in which we can improve those aspects of their lifestyle with the hope that one day the body will heal and they will no longer need to take blood pressure lowering medication and/or supplements.
4. Doctor as Teacher
Did you know that the Latin origin of the word doctor is teacher? NDs help their clients make healthcare decisions by empowering them with information. This is partly why visits to naturopathic physicians can take up to two hours! In that time not only will naturopathic physicians take a very thorough and extensive patient history, but they will also spend time educating their clients about their diagnoses and their rationale behind a given treatment plan. This helps the client to understand how they might have acquired their illness and what is going on inside of their body. It also helps them to leave the office feeling empowered about not only what to do to improve their circumstance, but also why it is important that they are taking certain actions.
This knowledge helps the client and the physician to work together to fine-tune a treatment plan that is not only specifically catered to a client, but also feels doable to implement by the client. As a client begins to feel more in charge of their wellness journey, they will begin to realize that they truly have the means and are capable of restoring and maintaining health and wholeness.
As primary care physicians, NDs can also serve as the first point of contact for clients simply seeking health related advice. Perhaps you simply have medical questions about the best way to start a new exercise routine or how you can start getting more restful sleep. Maybe you simply have questions about what vitamin supplements are actually worth taking or if you are drinking enough water. Maybe someone in your family was recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and you’re curious to learn ways you can prevent yourself from contracting the disease. Naturopathic physicians are trained to answer these kinds of questions, and more, and are eager to educate their clients!
5. Treat the Whole Person
We see a person as a whole unit consisting of a mind, body, and spirit all in the context of their environment. For example, although a client might visit an ND with a primary concern related to digestive health, their naturopathic physician will still inquire about how the client is maintaining the determinants of health. This principle ties in nicely with the third principle because NDs do not see any one system of the body as a completely isolated or separate unit. The systems of the body overlap, and we are trained to see the connections between them and how to address complications among them.
This is such an important one! Okay, so they are all really important, but this an area of medicine that I often feel is overlooked. Since we are trained to see the person as a whole and we aim to educate our patients, it seems to follow quite naturally then that naturopathic physicians are keen on helping their clients prevent disease in the first place. As primary care physicians, it is our hope that by empowering our clients with information, they will be able to create the conditions for health that will help make them resistant to acquiring a number of chronic illnesses and diseases later in life. In the case of clients that come to us with health struggles, it is our aim to help educate them on ways of preventing other negative medical conditions and on ways of preventing their current condition from returning once it is alleviated.
So what do you think? Sounds pretty great, right? Hopefully you are starting to understand what makes naturopathic medicine so unique and special.
Please feel free to comment any thoughts or questions below!
Disclaimer: I am a naturopathic medical student, not a licensed physician. The opinions expressed are my own, and do not reflect the opinions of the entire naturopathic doctor community. Nothing on my blog is intended to be taken as medical advice. Always consult a licensed physician before making any lifestyle or dietary changes.