What does a naturopath do?

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What is a Naturopath?

Naturopathy is a form of alternative healthcare, which focuses on traditional and natural healthcare solutions. It takes a holistic approach to wellness, supporting a healthy lifestyle and emphasizing the importance of a healthy diet, clean fresh water, sunlight, exercise, and stress management. These are the principles of naturopathy:

  • The healing power of nature – nature has an innate ability to heal
  • Identify and treat the cause – there is always an underlying cause, be it physical or emotional
  • Do no harm – a naturopath will never use treatments that may create other conditions
  • Treat the whole person – when preparing a treatment plan, all aspects of a person’s being are taken into consideration
  • The naturopath as a teacher – a naturopath empowers the patient to take responsibility for his/her own health by teaching self-care
  • Prevention is better than cure – a naturopath may remove toxic substances and situations from a patient’s lifestyle to prevent the onset of further disease

A naturopath, in the strict sense of the word, is a traditional naturopath, who is not trained to diagnose, prevent, and treat acute and chronic illnesses and by law cannot prescribe medication. These practitioners do not attend an accredited naturopathic medical school or receive a license. They are not medical doctors. They are practitioners of alternative medicine, who purport to treat the body, mind, and spirit. Their education varies widely. The traditional naturopath is the focus of this article.

For the sake of clarity, let’s take a brief look at the two other kinds of naturopath practitioners:

Naturopathic physicians are also called naturopathic doctors or doctors of naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic doctors attend a four-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school. They study basic sciences similar to those studied in conventional medical school. They also study nutrition, psychology, and complementary therapies such as herbal medicine and homeopathy. They must take professional board exams to be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician.

Other healthcare providers may also practise naturopathy. Some medical doctors, dentists, [osteopaths[(/careers/osteopath), chiropractors, and nurses have training in naturopathic medicine. Many are either naturopathic doctors or they studied naturopathy and use naturopathic methods in their treatment plans.

With these distinctions made, let’s proceed and learn more about the naturopath career.

What does a Naturopath do?

A naturopath talking to a client.

According to the World Health Organization, the mission of the naturopath is to teach the principles of healthy living and preventative healthcare. Naturopaths teach patients the causes of illness so they can better prevent recurrence. Patients are involved in the naturopathic therapeutic process, they participate in their own recovery, and they learn to take responsibility for their future health. This cooperative practitioner-patient approach empowers the patient, which in itself can contribute to healing and wellness.

Naturopaths use natural methods to treat and alleviate various types of health issues, including:

  • Allergies
  • Headaches / migraines
  • Fertility issues
  • Digestive problems
  • Obesity
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Chronic pain
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Some other chronic conditions

These are common duties carried out by naturopaths:

  • Meet with clients and discuss healthcare needs
  • Identify issues related to physical and overall health
  • Design a customized treatment plan based on natural remedies, ingredients, and medicine
  • With additional training, incorporate treatments such as massage, acupuncture and acupressure, spinal manipulation, reflexology, and herbal remedies
  • Keep records and perform related administrative tasks

Assessment by a naturopath
Trained naturopaths ask clients about their diet, lifestyle, family background, and environment, as well as any illnesses or other medical issues they have had. Once they take a detailed health history, naturopaths may use techniques such as:

  • Kinesiology
  • Iridology – the study of the patterns on the iris, the colored part of the eye
  • Blood analysis
  • Stool and urine analysis
  • Hair analysis
  • Functional testing – specialized tests that measure how the body’s biological and biochemical processes are working as a whole

Treatment by a naturopath
Naturopathic practitioners use many different treatment approaches, including:

  • Nutrition / dietary and lifestyle changes – a poor diet stops the body from functioning well and results in the build-up of toxins which can lead to a range of illnesses; whole, fresh, and unprocessed foods are recommended
  • Counseling for stress reduction
  • Herbs and other dietary supplements to support the body
  • Homeopathy – treatment based on the belief that the body can cure itself; homeopathic treatments involve the use of tiny amount of natural substances, like plants and minerals, to stimulate the healing process
  • Hydrotherapy – refers to using water in any form as therapy; for example, hot and cold compresses might be used for certain conditions to influence the flow of blood and body heat
  • Physical / manipulative therapies – such as massage, Bowen (a holistic technique that consists of sequences of small moves, each at a specific site on the body, to work on the soft connective tissue of the body), biopuncture (a natural therapy that involves the injection of dilute botanical and homeopathic substances into areas of acute or chronic pain to stimulate the natural healing response of the body), or mechanotherapy (the therapeutic method that provides a mechanical stimulus to the tissue, which is directed towards rehabilitating or developing the body to return to or improve activity)
  • Exercise therapies
  • Practitioner-guided detoxification

In some cases, naturopaths may refer patients to conventional healthcare providers.

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What is the workplace of a Naturopath like?

Most naturopaths are self-employed and run their own practice, allowing them to choose their working hours. They may, however, have to offer evening or weekend appointments to accommodate clients. Follow-up and ongoing client support may involve home visits and online or telephone consultations, which may be outside of regular working hours.

Naturopaths who do not practise in a freelance environment may work for spas, alternative therapy / wellness centers, or nutrition and vitamin supplements stores. While some patients may be referred to naturopaths by medical doctors, naturopaths themselves do not commonly work in hospitals, healthcare clinics, or physicians’ offices.

Naturopaths have a high level of social interaction, so therefore need to be at ease with working with clients face-to-face on a one-to-one basis, and with administering hands-on therapies when required.

Frequently Asked Questions

Naturopathic Physician vs Naturopath

A naturopathic physician, also known as a naturopathic doctor (ND), is a licensed healthcare practitioner who has completed a 4-year graduate level naturopathic medical program from an accredited institution. They are trained to diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses using natural therapies, such as nutrition, herbal medicine, physical medicine, and homeopathy, among others. Naturopathic physicians also have training in conventional medical sciences and are able to integrate conventional treatments when appropriate.

On the other hand, a naturopath is a practitioner who uses natural therapies to support and stimulate the body's own healing ability, but who has not necessarily completed a naturopathic medical program from an accredited institution. Naturopaths may have varying levels of training, ranging from a weekend course to a diploma or certificate program. Naturopaths are not licensed to practice as primary care physicians in most states in the US, and their scope of practice is more limited than that of a naturopathic physician.

The terms "naturopath" and "naturopathic physician" are not interchangeable, and it's important to research a practitioner's education and qualifications before an individual seeks treatment.

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Naturopaths are also known as:
Naturopathic Practitioner Traditional Naturopath