What is Naturopathic Medicine?

If you have no idea, no worries! I literally had zero idea what naturopathic medicine was up until only a few years ago. If you are new to my blog and want to read about my journey from knowing nothing about the profession to pursing it as my life’s work, you can find it here. Anyway, let’s get to it!

Naturopathic medicine is a holistic, patient-centered, form of primary care that emphasizes prevention and education in order to restore the body to a state of wellness. We aim to identify and treat the true root cause of illness from a whole-person perspective that takes into account all off the systems of the body and also the context of our clients’ lives and environment; therefore, it is not uncommon for your first visit with a naturopathic physician to take anywhere from an 90-120 minutes, and follow-up visits to take 30-60 minutes.

Unlike the prevailing allopathic approach, naturopathic physicans (NDs) do not view wellness as the absence of disease. NDs believe that a person can be whole, well, and vital even with a terminal illness. To our core, naturopathic physicians believe that the body is innately intelligent and trust that it is capable of healing as long as it is given the proper environment and support to do so. I will discuss what these conditions for health are in a future blog post. Stay tuned!

Photo credit: AANMC

As you might be beginning to see, naturopathic physicians’ approach to healing is deeply rooted in philosophy. NDs utilize what is known as The Therapeutic Order to guide them as they help support a client’s journey towards wellness and wholeness. With this in mind, NDs create the conditions for health and choose to intervene with the least invasive treatment possible. We are trained in and will often use several modalities which include nutrition education, lifestyle counseling, hydrotherapy, botanical medicine, physical medicine (including, but certainly not limited to, pain management, Swedish message, osteopathic manipulations, craniosacral therapy, and visceral manipulation), homeopathy, mind-body medicine, and when necessary, minor surgeries and pharmacology.

It is also important to note that we prefer to call the people we are working with clients instead of patients. We feel that client is a more empowering word that captures the fact that the person coming to our office is ultimately in charge of their health care decisions; therefore, their relationship with their ND becomes one of support, consultation, and education. This creates less of a power dynamic between the physician and client. We also prefer using the word client because the word patient has the connotation that there is always something wrong or off about the person. How can anyone heal if they are always a patient?

We receive a rigorous education at accredited four-year academic institutions located throughout the United States and Canada. Like MDs, we receive a thorough education in the basic sciences, but we also receive extensive training in our unique naturopathic modalities. If you are curious to learn more about our education and how our curiculum compares to that of MDs, you can find that information here. Upon graduation, we must also pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX) in order to receive our license.

Photo credit: AANMC

Licensure and regulation of naturopathic physicians varies greatly from state to state. Currently 20 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and 5 Canadian provinces have laws regulating the scope of practice of naturopathic physicians. However, even in many unlicensed states, naturopathic physicans are still able to work with clients as health consultants and make recommendations based upon prior diagnoses and laboratory work. What is the scope of practice available to NDs in your home town? Are naturopathic physicans licensed or regulated in your state? Check out the map below for an overview and check out the American Association of Naturopathic Physicans website if wish to learn more.

Photo credit: AANMC

Do you now have a better understanding of what naturopathic medicine is and what NDs do? What lingering questions do you still have? What experience, if any, do you have with naturopathic medicine? Please feel free to share in the comments below!