When you first meet someone what is the first question they ask you? “What do you do?” When I was initially starting out I used to simply respond, “I’m a naturopathic doctor.” The problem with that is that many people don’t know much about naturopathy. I left them hanging, and lost a perfectly good opportunity to educate and express my passion for what it is I do. Needless to say, I’ve fine-tuned my response since, but before I tell you exactly what that is we need to define another term – health.
When I ask patients that question they often give me responses like, “When I feel good.” “The fact that I don’t have cancer or X disease.” “I’m healthier than my mother or father.” They put health in relation to something or someone – a comparison of sorts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” WHO published that statement back in 1948 and really there hasn’t been much change since then.
If we look at health holistically I would argue that we must consider health as a dynamic force in our daily lives that is influenced by our circumstances, beliefs, culture and social, economic and physical environments. That definition is much more encompassing.
On the other hand, if we simplify and get to its root, I believe the most eloquent definition of health is a state of homeostasis, where homeostasis is a state of balance on all levels.
So what is health? What is disease? Perhaps you aren’t in agreement with the definitions above and that is okay. There is no right or wrong definition. The main point is that these are important concepts for patients and doctors alike to consider when embarking on a journey together to create a win-win situation for everyone.
An even more important question may be …
How can we create health?
And that’s where naturopathic doctors come in.
You see, I help patients try to understand that my role is not to treat symptoms, but rather identify them and then help the patient try to understand why they are happening.
When I meet with a patient for the first time, to help answer the question, “What is a naturopathic doctor,” I show them a picture of a room lit only by an open window that allows the sunlight to shine through.
I ask, “If this window were shut and the room became completely dark, how would you light up this room again?” I get responses like “I would open another window,” “I would break open the window,” “I would light a candle.” The one commonality with all the answers I’ve gotten is that they all offer a way to bring light into the room. Not one person has every told me to take the dark out.
And I tell my patient that is it – that is analogous to what I do as a naturopathic doctor. But, instead of light, I add health. I don’t have the ability as a doctor to remove disease. I can’t take away disease. I can only add health. Disease is the body’s natural, innate response to an imbalance within. It is adaptive physiology – it’s how the body adapts to the imbalances. What I do is try to work with the body to correct those imbalances and I do that by adding health.
Now, does that match people’s general assumptions of what a doctor is? (I’m not sure how close it even comes to people’s general assumptions of what is a naturopathic doctor). Does that match our current societal paradigm of health care?
As a naturopathic doctor my area of expertise is preventative medicine. What percentage of my patients come to me for prevention? Unfortunately, only a very small percent. Our current model of health care follows an illness model. It is designed to treat sickness. The patient is given orders or medication in the hopes that they will react in such a way as to recover from (or more accurately suppress) their symptoms. In a health model, one that is designed to treat health, the patient is provided enlightened knowledge so they may take responsibility to carry out their healthy lifestyle options.
Does our current health care system really treat health or is it in the business of treating sickness?
It may seem like I’ve gotten a little off track. “Then what is your definition of a naturopathic doctor?” you may be wondering.
“I educate people how to add health to their lives through actionable steps and the use of natural therapies.”
That (or a slight variation of that) statement is how I respond to the questions, “What is a naturopathic doctor?” or “What do you do?”
Until our health care system as a whole changes its emphasis on sickness care as opposed to health and healthful living, nothing in our health care system will change.
What will it take for us to stop trying to take out the dark? What will it take for us to realize that what we need to do is to bring in the light?
Perhaps it starts with our definition.
Naturopathic doctors are guided by six principles. This set of principles outlines the naturopathic approach to health and healing and forms the foundation of this distinct system of health care:
First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere)
Naturopathic doctors use methods and medicinal substances that minimize the risk of harmful side effects and avoid the harmful suppression of symptoms.
The Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae)
Naturopathic doctors work to restore and support the powerful and inherent healing power of your body, mind and spirit.
Identify and Treat the Cause (Tolle Causam)
The primary goal of a naturopathic physician is to determine and treat the underlying cause of illness rather than simply managing or suppressing the symptoms. Symptoms are viewed as expressions of the body’s natural attempt to heal.
Treat the Whole Person
Each person is unique and requires individualized care. Disease affects the entire person, not just a specific organ or system. Your nutritional status, lifestyle, family history, feelings, environmental stresses, and physical health are all carefully evaluated and addressed.
Doctor as Teacher (Docere)
Naturopathic doctors assist their patients’ understanding of health and illness and encourage them to maintain their own health. They acknowledge the therapeutic value inherent in the doctor-patient relationship.
Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Naturopathic doctors apply all of the above principles in a proactive form of disease prevention and health promotion. They assess risk factors and hereditary susceptibility to disease and make appropriate interventions to prevent illness.
To view the full size graphic right click on the image and select “View Image.”
Naturopathic Medicine in Canada – An infographic by Naturopathic Medicine in Canada
Naturopathic Medicine in Canada – An infographic by the team at Naturopathic Medicine in Canada
The following data depicts the results of a study conducted by Innovative Research Group to assess attitudes towards naturopathic medicince in the province of Ontario, Canada. 606 Ontarians were interviewed by phone in August 2011. This data was used to create the above infographic.
Here are a few answers to the question, “What is a naturopathic doctor?” from around the web:
After I graduate and pass my board exams, I will be licensed to prescribe an antibiotic, zap a skin tag, stitch up a bloody laceration, administer nutrients.
How Naturopathic Doctors Are Proving the Value of Integrative …Huffington Post (blog)In search of the science to support whole person, integrative medical care, the emerging guild of board-certified integrative M.D.s may use a strategy favored by . …
John Dempster, ND answers a question from a visitor to www.ExploreYourHealth.ca about the difference in the training and education of naturopathic doctors and homeopaths
Here is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians’ six part documentary series on the naturopathic medical profession. The series was originally aired between April and July 2009 on PBS station KOCE, southern California.
To view this documentary in its entirety please visit the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians’ site.
If you would like further information about what is a naturopathic doctor I invite you to check out the following sites:
“Naturopathic Doctors are highly educated primary care providers who integrate standard medical diagnostics with a broad range of natural therapies.“
“In Canada, the naturopathic medical profession’s infrastructure includes accredited educational institutions, professional licensing, national standards of practice, participation in many federal health committee initiatives, and a commitment to state-of-the-art scientific research.”
“Naturopathic physicians combine the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science. “