What Is Naturopathic Medicine and How to Know If It's Right for You
Updated: Sep 25
What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic medicine has been around for over 125 years. At one time it was practiced in most states but declined in the 1940s and 1950s with the rise of conventional medical practice. Currently there are 22 states where naturopathic doctors are licensed and we are always working to increase that number.
Naturopathic medicine began out of a healing tradition called Nature Cure. Nature Cure was a response to “heroic” medicine that included treatments such as bloodletting and purging that we would consider invasive and dangerous today. Nature Cure promoted fresh air, sunlight, exercise, hydrotherapy (healing with water), healthy diet and an overall healthy lifestyle. It’s similar to what modern naturopathic doctors recommend today.
One of the best ways to understand naturopathic medicine is to look at our six principles.
Here are the 6 Principles of Naturopathic Medicine:
The Healing Power of Nature - This is the belief that our bodies can heal themselves. The job of the healer is to identify and remove obstacles to healing.
Identify and Treat the Cause - Another way to say this is treating the “root cause.” Symptoms aren’t the real problem, they’re a reaction to the dysfunction that’s going on in the body. Treating the underlying cause, rather than suppressing symptoms, will allow the body to truly heal.
First Do No Harm - The goal is to reduce the risk of harmful side effects during diagnosis and treatment so NDs start with the least invasive, safest treatments before moving on to more invasive or potentially harmful treatments.
Doctor as Teacher - The word “doctor” comes from the Latin word for “teacher.” We take the time to talk to and empower our patients about their health. You become an active participant in your health care.
Treat the Whole Person - Every aspect of your life affects your health. It’s influenced by your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health as well as your family, friends, work, finances, and environment. NDs work with you to create a life that will support your health.
Prevention - NDs work to identify health issues before they escalate and negatively affect your life. Many of life’s chronic illnesses can be prevented by an overall healthy lifestyle.
What Therapies Do Naturopathic Doctors Use?
Naturopathic treatment includes a lot of different treatment options. The ones used by each doctor vary depending on their personal interests and how they feel they can effectively help their patients.
Treatment options include nutritional therapy, lifestyle counseling, mental health counseling, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, manual adjustments (similar to chiropractic adjustment), IV therapy, and massage and bodywork. Some NDs pursue additional training to be able to offer these modalities in their practices.
Naturopathic Medical Training
There are seven accredited naturopathic medical schools in the United States and Canada. These universities offer a 4-year graduate level doctorate program where students complete both classroom and clinical training.
We are educated in the basic sciences as well as both conventional and naturopathic treatments. The first two years are mostly spent in the classroom learning basic sciences and exam skills and the 3rd and 4th years are a mixture of classroom and clinical training in the university teaching clinic, with the 4th year spent mostly in clinical rotations. In the clinic, we are supervised by residents and experienced naturopathic physicians.
Naturopathic doctors take two sets of board exams in order to obtain a license. The basic science exam is usually taken after the 2nd year and the clinical board exam is taken after graduation. An ND must pass both of these exams to apply for a license. Once we have a license, we are required to complete continuing education to maintain it.
Only practitioners that pass boards and become licensed are able to call themselves a naturopathic doctor or naturopathic physician. A similar term, naturopath, is used by practitioners that are not licensed and have received their training through online or correspondence courses. When you’re choosing an ND, ask them where they went to school and where they are licensed.
Do Naturopathic Doctors Take Insurance?
Some NDs take insurance and some don’t. If an ND is in an unlicensed state they practice as a consultant and aren’t able to bill insurance. NDs in licensed states may choose to have cash practices and/or accept insurance. The insurance companies an ND is contracted with are up to them and they can be contracted with many including state insurance companies. Medicare is the only one we can’t contract with since it’s a federal program and we are not recognized as legal medical practitioners on a federal level, yet.
Can Naturopathic Doctors Order Labs/Imaging?
In licensed states NDs can order and interpret labs and imaging to monitor disease and/or make a diagnosis. Labs can be ordered through a local lab or through specialty, private labs that offer testing for things like food sensitivities, comprehensive digestive tests and hormone tests.
For more information about naturopathic medicine check out the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians where you can find an ND in your area and learn more!
How to Know If a Naturopathic Doctor Is Right for You
If you're thinking about seeing a naturopathic doctor you might be wondering how it's different or whether it's a good fit for you. If you can relate to any of these reasons, you might want to give naturopathic medicine a try!
You’ve Tried Everything Else and Nothing Has Worked
I think one of the most common reasons that patients choose to come see me is that they’ve tried many other practitioners or therapies and haven’t achieved the results they want. They’re tired of either trying to figure it out on their own or being told there’s nothing to be done.
You’re Want Someone to Take You Seriously
Unfortunately, it’s all too common for women to be told it’s all “in our heads” or it’s a “normal” part of getting older. Many patients feel they haven’t been heard, their labs are normal, and there’s nothing anyone can do. ND visits are longer than the average medical visit, which allows us to really talk and for me to listen to your story. Naturopathic doctors may do more functional lab testing and look at lab results from a different perspective.
You Want to Actively Participate in Your Health
In the standard medical model, there isn’t enough time or attention given to patients. Naturopathic medicine encourages your active participation because you are responsible for your health. We value the doctor-patient relationship because it’s part of the therapy, too.
You Want Personalized Treatment
NDs take all aspects of your life into account and take the time to discuss personalized treatment plans with you. Treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach because everyone is different.
If you’re interested in finding an ND in your area check out your state association or go to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. If you’re in Washington state go to the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Both of these associations have a lot of info and FAQs about naturopathic medicine. Or feel free to reach out to me and I’d be happy to help!
I hope this provides some clarity into naturopathic medicine and how us naturopathic doctors practice. Feel free to reach out with any questions!
Naturopathic medicine has been around for over 125 years. Currently there are 22 states where naturopathic doctors are licensed. Naturopathic medicine began out of a healing tradition called Nature Cure that's similar to what modern naturopathic doctors recommend today. Treatment options include nutritional, lifestyle, and mental health counseling, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, manual adjustments, IV therapy, and massage/bodywork. Medical training involves a 4-year graduate level doctorate program where students complete both classroom and clinical training. NDs can take insurance and order labs and imaging tests. Naturopathic medicine may be right for you if you've tried everything and nothing has worked, you want someone to take your concerns seriously, you want to actively participate in your care and you want personalized treatment.
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