Naturopathic Medicine Basics

If you don’t know anything about naturopathic medicine yet, it’s okay. Some of my family members still don’t quite understand all of what I do. Also, I went through a 4 (5 for me by splitting my 2nd year into two) year curriculum to learn it so you don’t have to.

One part of my mission in serving you is to condense all that knowledge into digestible and relevant pieces that will inform your journey toward better health. Therefore, I’m working to keep each post to a couple-minutes read that doesn’t dive too deep. If you want to learn more about a certain topic, I’d be thrilled to either share in office or write a follow up post. Be sure you include “Blog Request” in the subject line when writing me at [email protected].

A person is hidden behind a pile of books on a table. Let me teach you about naturopathic medicine instead.

The Basics

First, let’s begin with the most official definition, as provided by our national organization, The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), on their website:

“Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process.”

Some Technical Things to Know

Second, let’s get two other things out of the way:
1) How do you pronounce this medicine? and 2) what is an ND?

1) I know part of my audience reading this might not have ever heard of naturopathic medicine before. You might not even have an opportunity to see an ND in person, so you won’t hear it out loud. How do you pronounce “Naturopathic”? There are two equally accepted pronunciations – both a long and short “a” (“nature” and “natural”). They are interchangeable and you can use either or both as you please. Similarly, the terms “naturopathic medicine” and “naturopathy” are interchangeable (though naturopathy is more often pronounced with the short “a”).

2) ND is the title designated by our naturopathic medical school degree, “Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine”.

There is an important technical difference between our academic degree and having a medical license, although we usually have both. Obtaining a medical license is an extra step after graduation. It is issued by the Department of Health in the state the ND practices. However, not all states have laws regulating the practice of naturopathic medicine.

So with the following caveats: In a licensed state, with a license issued by the Department of Health, someone who graduated from an accredited naturopathic school can be called Naturopathic Doctor or Naturopathic Physician. Specifically in Arizona, they are also called Naturopathic Medical Doctor (N.M.D.).

(In a future post I’ll talk more about naturopathic medical training, accredited schools, how some states don’t license NDs, and why we don’t always like to be called just “naturopath”, but this is sufficient for now.)

So licensed NDs deliver naturopathic medicine, but why is naturopathy different than what I’m used to (called allopathy, or allopathic medicine, as practiced by MDs and DOs)?

The Handful of Ideas that Make Naturopathy Different

The difference comes down to the philosophy behind the medicine. The Six Principles make up a major part of the philosophy.

The Six Principles of Naturopathic Medicine

  • The Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae)
  • Identify and Treat the Cause (Tolle Causam)
  • First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere)
  • Doctor as Teacher (Docere)
  • Treat the Whole Person (Tolle Totum)
  • Prevention (Preventir)

When we practice medicine with these principles in mind, it looks quite different. Naturopathic doctors on average spend much more time with our patients than other doctors; 1-2 hours for a first visit is common, and 30-60 minutes for follow up visits are not unusual. Did you talk to your doctor for more than 10 minutes at your last appointment?

As you can imagine, when we take the time to get to know you and the intricacies of your health history, we are much better equipped to see the connections in your whole story. After all, you need to know the whole person in order to deliver whole person care. How can we treat the cause if we don’t take time to take time to figure out what it is? Of course you can throw a medication or other treatment at a symptom without digging deeper, but it’s only by treating the cause that you can effect lasting results.

What’s next?

There’s a second handful of ideas that form the basis for the philosophy of naturopathic medicine. In the next post, you’ll learn about the Therapeutic Order. In the meantime, check out my Services page to learn about treatments offered by some NDs.