When it comes to natural medicine, you have many different choices rooted in a variety of traditions from around the world: East Asian medicine, Ayurveda, Native American practices, Western naturopathic medicine, and numerous other regional systems. Here, I want to familiarize you with the foundations of naturopathic medicine since this is one of the pillars of my own clinical practice. While my doctorate is in Chinese medicine, I have also been licensed as a naturopathic physician in Germany since 2009, and combing these two systems allows me to offer a well-rounded natural healing approach to my patients.
Modern medicine with traditional roots
Naturopathy as a healthcare approach precedes and continues to develop in parallel with conventional allopathic medicine in Western European countries, North America, and Australia. It is an eclectic approach using various healing modalities depending on the practitioner’s education and the legal framework in the places where they practice.
Commonly, nutrition and botanical medicine play a prominent role, both to prevent and alleviate disease. Hydrotherapy, manual therapy, and energetic modalities are also employed. Some naturopathic practitioners specialize in homeopathy or integrate functional medicine in their practice. Others focus on psychological counseling or lifestyle coaching.
The philosophical foundation of naturopathic medicine is distinct from conventional biomedicine. It recognizes that all living organisms possess a self-regulatory, inherent ability for self-healing. Health and disease are reflections of a dynamic exchange between the individual’s physical, mental-emotional, spiritual, social and environmental circumstances. The aim of naturopathic practice is to support the person’s self-healing abilities to restore, maintain and optimize wellbeing.
Six principles of naturopathic medicine
Naturopathic medicine organizes itself around six widely recognized principles. Most naturopathic practitioners will use these as their framework when working with patients. These six principles are:
- The Healing Power of Nature—we recognize that the life force of a living organism is the driving mechanism behind healing, so we engage with it and support its requirements (instead of suppressing symptoms) to enable body and mind to restore balance and wellbeing.
- First Do No Harm—we aim to employ therapies that have a low level of risk and provide resources for self-healing. While symptom relief is sometimes necessary, it is not the primary goal of care.
- Treat the Whole Person—in contrast to conventional medicine, we always consider the person as a whole, in their life context, to reach a more complete understanding of their needs. We appreciate the complex web of their health.
- Treat the Cause—we often encounter individuals with chronic health conditions. Their symptom picture frequently has unsuspected root causes we want to address to promote a full return to good health.
- Doctor as Teacher—one of the most valuable aspects of naturopathic practice is the evolving relationship between patient and practitioner. It serves to encourage reflection, understanding and self-empowerment.
- Prevention—an empowered patient will develop insight and motivation to implement lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of illness and promote vitality and resilience.
These foundational principles of naturopathic medicine also inform the approach naturopathic physicians pursue when working with the individual. We start by identifying and removing burdens and implementing a more health-supportive routine; we stimulate the self-healing processes; we address weakened systems or organs; we enhance structural integrity; we address illness, first with natural substances or modalities and, if needed, with synthetic substances; we refer to suppress or surgically remove pathological processes or tissue.
As you can see, our naturopathic approach is well-suited to identify imbalances and root causes that contribute to your impaired wellbeing, and to gently help you right the ship. Naturopathic medicine is not considered heroic or highly interventional medicine. It takes time. We usually work together over the course of weeks or months. You are in charge (or learning to take charge) and use your provider as a guide and teacher.
When to work with a naturopathic practitioner
Consider engaging in this process if you have a long-standing health concern that doesn’t resolve satisfactorily in response to pharmaceutical therapy or surgery, or if these approaches have an unreasonable risk of side-effects. You will also benefit from including an integrative holistic practitioner in your team during your recovery from severe illness or to support you if you are faced with chronic conditions, particularly digestive, hormonal or immune imbalances, and pain.
Conventional and naturopathic providers can coordinate your care to provide you with more options and the best available treatment with the lowest risk. Staying healthy will even benefit your pocketbook because using advanced pharmaceutical or surgical care is expensive and can be avoided in many cases if you take good care of yourself.
© 2021 Christiane Siebert