As I work to complete my four year certification as a traditional naturopath, I am frequently asked about my field of work. Most responses vary around a polite, “Oh, interesting. Nat-ur-op-athy, what is that, exactly…?” to the enthusiastic, “Oh! My sister sees a naturopath! Do you know about essential oils?”
I have stumbled more times than I care to admit attempting to explain the concept of naturopathy based on the depth of knowledge the inquiring person was looking for. I went from feeling too vague and unconfident in my response to overly enthusiastic and overwhelming. “I love this! Don’t you?! Well, let me tell you more!” With time and experience I’ve improved (slightly), but still strive to develop my own definition of what I do and how to clearly portray that to anybody who might inquire.
The following is my attempt to answer the main questions I have received from the lady standing in the check-out lane behind me to the potential clients who call and are ready to do their research. My answers and explanations are solely based on what I have been taught or what I have learned through experience and will be presented without bias towards any one way of practicing as the world of natural health is large and diverse.
a system of alternative medicine based on the theory that diseases can be successfully treated or prevented without the use of drugs, by techniques such as control of diet, exercise, and massage.
Sure, Google. That’s accurate. But I’d venture to say that it’s more involved than that. Naturopathic medicine is based on the belief that the human body has the innate ability to heal itself. (Your body is not out to get you and it will not malfunction for no good reason. It is always trying to come back into balance and is crazy-resilient despite what we throw at it.) When provided with the proper nutrition, physical activity, and emotional, energetic and spiritual wellness, balance can be restored to the body. It is in this state that we have the opportunity to effectively fight against disease, self-cleanse, repair, and ultimately heal ourselves.
Naturopathy focuses on you as physical, emotional, and spiritual being. It recognizes that we as human beings are the entirety of our relationships, our careers, our diets, our stresses, our loves, and our thoughts, feelings, and core beliefs. It seeks out the root of illness rather than masking symptoms and understands that there is no one-size-fits-all prescription to health. (So. Cool. RIGHT?! I’ll resist carrying on.)
So are you a “doctor” doctor?
To which I assume they’re referring to an MD. I will be not an MD, but I will be a certified ND, but not the same as the other type of ND…
…What is the difference between an ND and an ND?
I wish this was a trick question. At this time, both traditionally trained naturopaths and naturopathic physicians in the state of Michigan have the option to identify themselves as naturopathic doctors, or ND’s. So what’s the difference? Generally speaking, traditional naturopaths are trained in a wide variety of holistic therapies such as herbology, homeopathy, therapeutic oils, iridology, sclerology, facial and nail analysis, reflexology, bodywork, applied kinesiology, mind-body therapies and more. They counsel on nutrition, remedies, and lifestyle while using non-invasive procedures to address the underlying root cause of ailments.
Traditional naturopaths, unless otherwise trained as a medical doctor or as a naturopathic physician, are not primary care physicians. Some traditionally trained naturopaths do practice under the title naturopathic doctor, as that is what their certification grants them, but I personally prefer the term naturopathic practitioner to differentiate myself from the common association of a doctor being a medical doctor and physician. I do not wish to practice medicine as an MD does and therefore do not want to confuse anyone on what services I provide.
Naturopathic doctors/physicians, on the other hand, are very similar to MDs and DOs, but differ in that they learn more alternative therapies in their last two years of school. They can obtain a license, accept insurance, and practice as primary care physicians in states that regulate naturopathic medicine. Currently, 17 states are licensed, with Michigan not being one of them at this time.
Naturopathic physicians have different knowledge of alternative therapies depending on what courses their program provided and what they chose to focus on. Some may have in-depth knowledge of the same therapies that traditional naturopaths provide, while others focus more solely on nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle. A licensed naturopathic physician in a regulated state can perform minor surgeries, prescribe prescriptions, use invasive procedures, diagnose and treat illness based upon conventional medical theories, and use allopathic diagnostic procedures including x-rays and blood work. In unlicensed states, naturopathic doctors/physicians work with nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle much like traditional naturopaths.
So who do I see?
Now that we’ve clarified that there are two different types of naturopaths, let me further emphasize that the differences do not stop there. For each naturopathic physician or traditional naturopath that practices holistically (seeing you as a whole being and searching for the root of your ailment), there is probably another one out there suggesting remedies on a symptom by symptom basis. Meaning, they are allopathically giving natural remedies, such as an herb for weight loss, another herb for hair loss, and one more for energy, when all of these things more than likely have one root cause that could be supported with a personalized-to-them regimen that would be far more effective. This is why it’s so difficult for a naturopath to answer a one symptom question. “I have eczema, what do you suggest?” They could probably recommend something to ease the itching, but they also know that a “band-aid” won’t heal it. Thus why most naturopaths have two hour initial appointments to delve into your birth history, your childhood, past illnesses, your emotional state, your lifestyle, etc, etc. This is what a naturopath is trained to do, no matter which title they have. Your job as the client is to take an active role and responsibility in your health and to talk to, question, and find the right practitioner for you.
Author: Christie Kruisenga is a natural health consultant offering consultations for those desiring holistic direction on their wellness journey.