(BlackDoctor.org) — Naturopathy is a form of alternative or complementary medicine. This practice is based on the notion that the body has the intrinsic ability to heal itself with the proper support and guidance, and naturopaths utilize modern and traditional medical practices to achieve this goal. It is practiced in the United States, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Germany. Naturopaths can be found working in hospitals, medical offices, holistic health centers, and many other settings.
The Basics Of Naturopathy
In naturopathy, allowing nature to heal the body is a primary basis of this form of alternative medicine. Naturopathic doctors pledge first to “do no harm”, and seek to find the underlying cause of illness rather than to simply treat symptoms.
Naturopaths see themselves as teachers, and work with patients on lifestyle changes that promote healing and optimal health. Taking many aspects of a patient’s life and history into consideration, naturopaths may address diet and nutrition, chronic health conditions, exercise, emotional health, spirituality, family history, and many other factors during the course of treatment.
The prevention of disease and illness is one of the most important aspects of naturopathic medicine. Whereas mainstream medicine may concentrate on curing illness, naturopathy relies on treatment and lifestyle changes that may prevent the occurrence of disease in the first place. Naturopaths evaluate genetic predisposition to disease, family history and other risk factors that may make a patient more vulnerable to illness. Specific lifestyle changes to support optimal health and the prevention of disease are then prescribed.
What Can I Expect?
When seeing a naturopath, patients can expect to undergo an extensive medical interview and physical examination. A naturopathic doctor may prescribe homeopathic remedies (see previous Black Doctor editorial describing homeopathy), herbal remedies, dietary and lifestyle changes, and a variety of laboratory tests.
During the course of treatment, naturopathic doctors may utilize acupuncture, chelation therapy, blood and hair analysis, hydrotherapy, massage or joint manipulation, colonic irrigation, as well as other forms of natural medicine and healing. While some naturopathic doctors may serve as the primary medical provider for a minority of patients, most consumers will maintain their relationship with their medical doctor and simply see a naturopathic doctor as a complement to their mainstream medical treatment.
How Are Naturopaths Trained and Certified?
In the United States, there are three categories of practitioners of naturopathy: naturopathic physicians, traditional naturopaths, and various providers who utilize aspects of naturopathic medical practice.
In terms of education, most naturopaths undergo a rigorous four-year graduate-level training program at one of the schools of naturopathic medicine approved by the Council on Naturopathic Education, an organization that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Prospective students must complete a Bachelor’s Degree and pre-medical education prior to acceptance to a naturopathy program. Upon graduation, successful students receive the title of Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.) or Naturopathic Medical Doctor (N.M.D.).
Continuing education requirements are based on the state where the naturopathic doctor practices, and each individual state regulates whether naturopathic doctors have the ability to prescribe medications, assist in childbirth, practice acupuncture, or perform minor outpatient surgeries.
Traditional naturopaths do not necessarily undergo the rigorous training that naturopathic doctors must complete, and traditional naturopaths are generally not licensed or regulated. Training programs for traditional naturopaths are generally not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education or by most national naturopathic organizations.
Other medical providers such as chiropractors, osteopaths, dentists and nurses may undergo some naturopathic training in various holistic therapies, but these programs are generally limited and not subject to accreditation or licensing.
Is Naturopathy For Me?
If you are considering naturopathic treatment, it is recommended to discuss this with your primary care physician. It is also recommended that your naturopathic physician consult with your primary physician regarding treatments that are being prescribed. Some herbal remedies can interact with prescription medications, so communication between your providers is important.
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians is an excellent place to seek a referral to a naturopath near you, and their web address is http://www.naturopathic.org.
Naturopathy is an important and useful form of alternative medicine that many Americans choose to utilize for treatment of both chronic and acute health conditions. Treatment by a naturopathic doctor can be an excellent complement to mainstream medical care, providing the best of preventive medicine for consumers seeking comprehensive holistic treatment.