I can’t even count the number of times I have been asked, “What is Naturopathic Medicine?”
When I first made the decision to enter this type of program, I wasn’t really sure how to respond to that question. One of the things I love about this school/program is the emphasis on the philosophy of what it means to be a Naturopathic Physician. Keep in mind, I am still in the very early stages of my education, and am therefore confident I will become more competent in answering this question over the next few years of my education, and over the course of my entire career.
Currently, my understanding is that the best way to answer the question about what our medicine really is, would be to describe the therapeutic order. I think one of the most common misconceptions about our medicine is that we are completely against pharmaceutical intervention, or only believe in all natural remedies and solutions. When in reality, we believe in following a therapeutic order.
To put it simply, this means that we ALWAYS start with creating the conditions for health which is described by Dr. Zeff as establishing the foundation for optimal health. This is step 1 of the therapeutic order. Following step 1, the severity of the symptoms/condition may dictate the next step. For example, if someone goes to see a Naturopathic Doctor (ND), and has appendicitis, the next step is to surgically remove the appendix. However, if someone goes to see a ND complaining of a headache, the first step will not necessarily be to prescribe a pharmaceutical remedy, or even a natural remedy to treat the headache. The doctor will likely first look at the determinants of health (more on this in a future blog post), and what could be causing the symptoms of a headache such as hydration, sleep, stress, etc.
A summary of the therapeutic order would be utilizing the least force necessary. So, if something can be solved without any intervention by encouraging the self-healing mechanisms in the body, the better. If intervention is needed, start with supporting and restoring weakened systems, looking at natural remedies, and last, looking into possible pharmaceutical intervention. There is a time and place for almost every intervention, however, as ND’s, we feel that there is less of a time and place for pharmaceuticals than traditional allopathic physicians due to our following of a therapeutic order.
This is a very important component in the philosophy of naturopathic medicine. I am excited to learn more about it, and even more excited for the opportunity to one day use it on patients. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I may not be able to answer all of your questions yet, but I will do my best to point you in the right direction.