What is Naturopathic Medicine?
There are two concepts which guide the practice of naturopathic medicine. In my opinion, no matter what your degree, if you adhere to these concepts you are practicing naturopathically. It gives me great comfort knowing that these concepts have been adopted universally in naturopathic institutions. I consider them about as infallible as any human constructs can be and the intentions behind them about as altruistic as humans can get. The first concept, The Naturopathic Principles, are a set of five principles which, by pursuing a degree in naturopathic medicine, all Naturopathic Physicians have agreed to abide by to the best of their ability in the treatment of their patients. The principles are as follows:
First, Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere)
This may seem self-evident as a basis for practicing medicine but the reminder is important. There are many instances in the history and current practice of medicine when harm was done to patients through hubris, ignorance or even the best of intentions. In naturopathic medicine we aim to reduce harm by avoiding the suppression of symptoms that are often a result of the healing process; reduce the harmful side-effects of medications when possible by close monitoring of the condition, providing safer alternatives or providing complimentary options; and acknowledging and respecting the individual’s natural healing process.
The Healing Power of Nature (aka Vis Medicatrix Naturae; aka the Vis)
This is the idea that living beings are endowed with an inherent ability for healing and health and that health is their “normal” state. Often, removing barriers to this natural process is all that is required for healing.
Identify and Treat the Cause (Tolle Causum)
There is always value in seeking out the cause and treating it if possible. Sometimes it is not practical to treat the cause, sometimes the cause is very elusive but the process of seeking out the cause is therapeutic in its own right if not curative. It may be helpful to consider this in contrast with the concept of treating only the symptoms of a disease. Sometimes symptom control is the only logical thing to do. An otherwise healthy person with a cold will eventually fight that cold off, but you may as well make them as comfortable as possible during this process and do what you can to speed the process up. Sometimes focusing only on symptomatic treatment can be harmful. Many immune suppression drugs can temporarily improve symptoms but if you do not treat the root cause of the disease it will certainly progress and put patients at risk for worse illness.
Doctor as Teacher (Docere)
As medical practitioners, naturopathic practitioners agree to partner with a client to manage their health. The flow of information is vital to any successful partnership. A naturopathic physician will provide you with as much information as needed to make the best, most informed decisions about your health care needs.
Treat the Whole Person (Tolle Totum)
This may be best understood in contrast to the mainstream western medical model of treating a disease (a model which is fortunately questioned more and more by the medical community). By focusing on only the physical process of the disease you may miss out on other important aspects of treatment. Naturopathic Medicine recognizes physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, environmental, economic, genetic, social and other factors as part of the patient’s health profile and healing process. Any one or more of these may be helpful to address. Some will be lower hanging fruit than others.
Prevention is the cornerstone of naturopathic medicine. Prevention can lead to a reduction in health care costs and morbidity and lead to improved quality of life, particularly in later years. Naturopathic doctors emphasize prevention by considering risk factors, heredity, and history to implement appropriate interventions. Prevention is a cornerstone of Naturopathic Medicine and the reason health care is a lifelong process.
The second concept which makes Naturopathic Medicine a unique system is called the “Therapeutic Order”. This is a mental model that guides treatment in such a manner as to provide effective results with the lowest possible amount of harm to the patient and the lowest cost.