What is Naturopathic Medicine?

I just met with Dr. David Richard at Integrative Natural Health in Claremont. Dr. Richard did his naturopathic medicine training at Bastyr University in Seattle. I described the book project I'm working on and he explained the fundamental principles behind naturopathic medicine.

Naturopathic Medicine has six key principles:

1. First, do no harm    A naturopathic doctor (ND) begin his or her treatment simply and non-invasively, focusing on patient choices like diet and lifestyle before moving on to specifically prescribed vitamins, herbs, or pharmaceuticals, then to more invasive techniques like surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.    Dr. Richard pointed out that being effective with this type of approach requires NDs to spend more time with patients. It is through this relationship that a doctor gains an in depth understanding of the patient's history and can thus identify the most effective treatment process.

2. Identify and treat the cause    The theory behind naturopathic medicine was developed by combining the most effective elements of several healing traditions including Eastern European herbal treatments, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Indigenous healing arts, and Western/Conventional medicine.     Thanks to their holistic view of health, ND's see the web of interrelated factors which aggravate or ameliorate disease in their patients. This allows NDs to diagnose the underlying problems and create a treatment plan that targets those issues.

3. The healing power of nature    Dr. Richard pointed out that naturopathic doctors are different from most MDs because of the power they claim. Most patients expect their MD to use his power to heal them; in contrast, an ND's goal is to use his expertise to empower the patient. Ultimately, Richard pointed out, it is the power of nature that heals a patient, an ND's job is to help his patient create the conditions in which that healing can take place.

4. Treat the whole person    Taking into account the complex system of forces and factors that underlie health, NDs seek to use their skills at listening and building relationship in order to support the patient in his own efforts to maintain a healthy balance in lifestyle and self care.

5. Doctor as teacher    With its strong emphasis on patient empowerment, naturopathic doctors embraces the educational aspects of their role. To help NDs do this, their training includes a stronger emphasis on understanding the patient's lived experience and techniques for helping patients to develop habits that will help them to build healthier lifestyles.

6. Prevention    Because naturopathic medicine focuses on all of the interacting forces and factor that underlie health and disease, NDs are able to help their patients identify a range of obstacles to optimum health. Some of these obstacles--a broken bone, for example-- cause immediate and acute symptoms. Other obstacles--such as an imbalanced diet-- may cause only mild symptoms today, but over time lead to massive health problems such as heart failure, diabetes, or obesity. Thanks to the rich relationships NDs develop with their patients, they are able to identify obstacles at a range of levels and empower patients with plans for short term well being and optimal long range health.

As I listened to Dr. Richard I was struck that Naturopathic Medicine might be a useful healing modality to include in my upcoming book, Healing the Body Politic. The current draft I'm working on discusses the underlying principles of 4 healing traditions and draws a parallel between healing the body of a sick human and healing the dynamics with a group of humans (body politic).

My argument is that groups, like individuals, can achieve a natural balanced state in which they function effectively and efficiently. The role of a group process facilitator, like a doctor or other healer, is to create the conditions that will help the group move into a state of balanced, optimal function. By expanding upon the connections between helping groups and healing bodies my hope is to raise awareness about the possibility of improving group function in order to solve problems, increase efficiency, and create opportunities.

I'm excited to speak further with Dr. Richard and explore the parallel between naturopathic medicine and effective group process work.