The difference between naturopathic doctors and medical doctors comes down to perspective.
Naturopathic doctors believe the body has the innate (natural, instinctive, intuitive) potential to heal and repair itself -to keep itself in balance. By recommending dietary choices, daily movement, lifestyle changes, and natural therapies, a naturopath doctor (ND) guides your body and enhances its ability to do work. A naturopath wants your body to find its own balance to prevent illness – an easier task than correcting an imbalance once it has already happened, although NDs do a lot of acute and chronic treating along with preventative care.
Patients who see a naturopathic doctor are encouraged and empowered to take an active role in their health process. Acknowledging and honoring the body’s inner wisdom is the foundation and spirit of this medical art. It is this wisdom that governs the body in health and helps to re-balance it when external forces override optimal functioning. Symptoms are expressions of the body’s attempt to adapt, recover, and heal, ie. to re-balance. Therefore, it is important for patients to tell their naturopathic doctor about any symptoms they are experiencing, as an ND considers these as important clues to the source of the body’s imbalance that are not to be ignored or suppressed.
Medical doctors (MD) believe that medicine is what heals people. They are very good at treating symptoms, and prescribing manufactured medicine to adjust the body’s chemistry. In many cases, like cancer and genetic disorders, the medicine can be lifesaving. However, treating just the symptoms, rather than the underlying “wholistic” imbalance, may interfere with the overall healing process.
The Best of Both Worlds
Many people see a naturopathic doctor for their overall health care, but retain their MD for when they need a prescription, emergency care, or medication adjustments. An ND can be your first ‘go to’ practitioner for anything from colds and flu or aches and pains, to allergies or infections (urinary tract, ear, etc.). The training that naturopaths receive allows them to discern when referring out to another practitioner is required.
Getting to Know You
One of the largest problems with healthcare today is the need for doctors to see as many patients as possible, (as insurance companies pay them a fraction of what their expertise is worth). A typical visit doctor’s visit, after a 15 plus minute wait, is 20 minutes at the most. How well a doctor knows you is based on how often they see you / how sick you are.
You’ll find a sharp contrast with a naturopathic doctor, where your first office visit typically lasts 60-90 minutes, and follow up visits are 45-60 minutes. Your first visit includes a complete review of your health history and medication and supplements (dosage, possible interactions, need), pertinent physical exams, diagnosis, and the creation of a treatment plan. That treatment plan considers all of you, your lifestyle, your mind, body, and spirit.
Getting to the Root Cause of Your Symptoms
Health and disease can result from physical, mental, emotional, genetic, epigenetic, environmental, social, and other factors. The tenet of “First, Do No Harm” guides the NDs to choose the most gentle, appropriate, least invasive treatment options first. The chosen therapies provide information to the body to stimulate it to function, activating another naturopathic principle, the “Healing Power of Nature.” This tenet refers to the innate healing power of not only the body, but also natural tools like water, food, and herbs to stimulate healing. The body has the internal ability to do all of the work necessary for well-being.
Treatment plans may incorporate any or all of the modalities (‘tools in their toolbox’) that are available to NDs. In Connecticut, NDs are licensed to treat patients using:
- Nutritional medicine, dietetics, and therapeutic fasting
- Medicines of mineral, animal, and botanical origin
- Hygiene and public health measures
- Acupuncture and/ or Chinese medicine
- Naturopathic physical medicine, including naturopathic manipulative therapies, the use of hydrotherapy, heat, cold, ultrasound, and therapeutic exercise
- It is the goal of naturopathic treatment to identify and treat the cause of illness in order to guide the body back to balance and health.
Return office visits for patients with ongoing health issues are scheduled regularly so that the naturopathic doctor can monitor progress, discuss new or returning symptoms, and modify treatment plans accordingly. Acute visits are offered when the body needs extra support on an as-needed basis. Acute treatment eases symptoms while still addressing the underlying weaknesses that enabled the illness to emerge.
Choosing a Naturopathic Doctor
Call a few NDs in your area to talk with each one to find the person whose philosophy and personality match your own. Further information about naturopathic medicine and a listing of licensed naturopathic doctors can be found through the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Wendy Leigh H. White, ND, was the founder of Natural Family Health, LLC. Specializing in natural family health care, assisting and supporting families with everyday health issues, Dr. White provides guidance to men, women, and children in allowing their bodies to heal themselves, as they are designed to do. Her practice is located Portland Natural Medicine, 512 SE Morrison St.,Portland OR 97214 and can be reached at 503.239.1022.