Originating from 19th-century Europe, naturopathy, originally known as ‘nature cures’ refers to a system of holistic healthcare that incorporates a number of different natural therapies in order to restore the health of the patient.
Similar to many other alternative and complementary therapies and systems, the naturopathy philosophy is to promote the body's innate ability to self heal. It recognises that health is more than simply the absence of disease and is in fact dependant on multiple factors.
What is naturopathy?
Blending traditional and natural forms of medicine with modern scientific knowledge, naturopathy is based around the healing power of nature and how it can support and stimulate our body’s natural ability to heal itself.
Naturopathy uses natural therapies including dietetics, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, clinical nutrition, homoeopathy, naturopathic manipulation, fasting, traditional Chinese medicine, exercise, detoxification, and lifestyle counselling, as well as spiritual healing, environmental assessment and adjustment, health promotion and disease prevention. It is both an art and science of disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
What do naturopaths do?
Naturopathic health practitioners (naturopaths) strive to provide personal care to each and every one of their patients believing that every individual is unique and people are genetically, biochemically, structurally and emotionally different from one another. Each person responds in a unique way to influences whether they are mental/emotional, structural, nutritional, social or cultural.
A naturopath will assess your condition before prescribing what they believe to be the appropriate treatment. Your practitioner may use natural healing methods such as homeopathy, acupuncture or herbal medicine as well as nutrition advice and various types of physical therapy among other things.
Using a range of alternative methods for diagnosis, a naturopath can often successfully pinpoint a predisposition in the body before the onset of acute disease, and treat the patient with specific therapies and changes in the patient’s lifestyle. Naturopaths can help guide you towards changes you may need to make in order to get well. This guidance may include lifestyle or dietary changes, as well as advice and guidance surrounding emotional well-being. Depending on their training, they may offer naturopathic manipulation, acupuncture, or massage. Alternative options they may recommend include prescribing natural remedies such as herbs, homeopathy, or nutritional supplements.
What are the benefits of naturopathy?
Known for promoting and maintaining your body’s health, there are many different ways naturopathy can benefit you. These include:
- Preventing disease. This is often through combination with nutritional guidance, to help maintain or achieve a healthier body and boost your immune system.
- Aiding or treating common ailments. These can include but are not limited to helping with digestive issues, headaches, allergies, and common skin conditions.
- Improving sleep. Herbal treatments frequently offered through naturopathy combined with nutritional suggestions can help to create better, more sustainable sleeping habits.
- Increased self-awareness. Helping patients to connect with their inner self, through naturopathy, you can begin to better understand your body and what it needs. Through learning to understand what your body is trying to tell you with a variety of different symptoms or issues, you can begin listening to what it’s telling you.
What are the naturopathic principles?
The system of naturopathy is described by six core principles that practitioners adhere to at all times. There are many versions and re-phrasings of the six values but essentially they all have the same meaning. These include:
The healing power of nature. This essentially means that we should recognise, respect and promote our body's healing power and self-correcting mechanisms. We should avoid any treatments which might contradict this by working against them.
Identify and treat the cause. It is important that the underlying cause, whether physical or emotional, is identified and removed as opposed to just simply suppressing the symptoms.
Do no harm. A naturopath will provide the most effective health care system with the least risk to the patient. They will never use treatments that may create other conditions.
Treat the whole person. Every aspect of a person's being must be taken into account when preparing a treatment plan. This includes the physical, mental and emotional aspects, as well as individual health factors and influences.
The physician as teacher. A naturopath must encourage their patient to gain control and take responsibility for their own health by teaching them self-care methods.
Prevention is better than cure. This value really speaks for itself. Your naturopath will work with you to hopefully not only rid you of your current ailment but also to remove any toxic substances and situations to prevent the onset of further disease in the future.
The origins of naturopathy
Greek philosopher Hippocrates believed that in order to find the cause of a disease a person would have to be viewed as a whole before being cured using the laws of nature. It is this principle on which the foundations of naturopathy are built, though technically naturopathy originated in the nature cure movement of Europe.
The actual term 'naturopathy' was coined in 1895 by a man named John Scheel before being rocketed into the spotlight by Benedict Lust who is now referred to as the father of American naturopathy. Lust had spent several years in Germany learning the skill of hydrotherapy and other natural health practices from his father Sebastian Kneipp. In order to raise awareness of their drug-free methods, Lust was sent by his father to America. Whilst there Lust began to use the term naturopathy to describe a broad range of practices including hydrotherapy, herbal medicine, homeopathy and the elimination of overeating.
In 1901, Lust founded both the American School of Naturopathy and the American Naturopathic Association. After experiencing a period of rapid growth, the introduction of penicillin and other hospital-based medicine at the turn of the 20th century meant that naturopathy went into decline for several decades. It was only in the 1970s that there was a revival of interest in conjunction with the holistic health movement.
What should I expect during naturopathy treatment?
Initial consultation and diagnosis
Typically you will be required to have an initial consultation which usually lasts for around one hour. The consultation will allow your naturopath to ask questions regarding your lifestyle, medical history, diet and general well-being as well as a possible physical examination which could include anything from iridology (a study of the iris) right through to a diagnosis of the tongue, a candida test, urine test, faecal matter analysis or blood testing among others.
The more information your practitioner has, the more accurate their diagnosis, recommendations and prescription will be. Once they feel they have gathered enough information a treatment plan will be formulated which incorporates all aspects of an individual's life as opposed to just the area that is affected, this way the body has the optimum chance to heal itself.
The treatment plan may include advice on diet, lifestyle, exercise, herbal medicine, homeopathic treatments, or other suitable remedies. A naturopath may also refer the client to other practitioners as part of an integrated health care approach.
How many sessions will I need?
The number of sessions you will need will be highly dependant on what is wrong. For long-standing issues that have been present for years, you might perhaps need more sessions than you would for something more recent. However, most people begin to see results within about five to six sessions. It's important to remember that naturopathy is not an instant treatment. If effective results aren't seen immediately, it doesn't mean that treatment isn't working.
How often is naturopathy needed?
Again this really depends on the condition of the patient. For someone who has a serious ailment, it may be that they require frequent support and therefore attend sessions once a week or once every fortnight. Other patients will only require one session per month. This is something that you can discuss with your practitioner during the initial consultation.
What types of treatment might I be offered?
Because naturopathy is an overall approach to healthcare it uses a variety of treatments that are chosen by the practitioner based on what they feel will be most efficient. Each treatment selected will be applied in a way that works with your body's ability to heal itself. A large number of practitioners are additionally qualified in other therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy and iridology, allowing them to be directly involved in the treatment. However, they might select a treatment that is not one of their specialist areas and in this case, they will refer you for treatment elsewhere.
There are a plethora of treatments that your naturopath might recommend but here is a selection to give you an idea of what to expect: kinesiology, botanical medicine, brainwave entrainment, chelation therapy, colonic enemas, colour therapy, cranial osteopathy, hair analysis, hydrotherapy, ozone therapy, physical therapy such as osteopathy, soft tissue massage, psychological counselling such as meditation or talk therapy, reflexology, rolfing, and traditional Chinese medicine.
Learning from your practitioner about elements of healthy living will play a large role in your treatment. It is the responsibility of your practitioner to offer you advice and information on a number of areas, ensuring that you are able to uphold what you have learnt on your own once treatment ceases.
Expect to learn about the principles of health and disease and the reasons why a person becomes ill in the first place. You will also learn about diet, nutrition, exercise, breathing exercises, stress management and detoxification among other things. All of this will help you as a patient to gain a better understanding of the totality of body, mind and spirit.
The food we choose to eat has a huge influence on the way our bodies behave. In naturopathy, the importance of nutrition is stressed every step of the way. Naturopaths believe that the best fuel for our bodies is whole, organic and chemical-free and that controlling our diets is a simple way of preventing health complaints. Detox foods are for people who carry an excess of toxins and building foods are good for deficiencies, and so on.
Who do naturopaths help?
Helping people with all different kinds of health concerns across all ages, naturopaths can offer help with long-standing (chronic) illnesses, as well as more recent onset issues. They can help with both physical and psychological issues, providing benefits for many different patients, including:
- Those looking to prevent disease or start undertaking health promotion strategies.
- People with symptoms that they have been unable to address on their own or with the assistance of other medical practitioners.
- Those who have been diagnosed with an ongoing or chronic issue and are seeking supportive, complementary treatment options that may improve quality of life.
- People hoping to combine conventional and naturopathic treatments (often with the aim of minimising the likelihood of side effects from drugs, surgery, or medical treatment).
How is naturopathy different from conventional medicine?
Naturopaths treat each patient as an individual, addressing not only physical, but emotional, attitudinal, lifestyle, and environmental aspects that may be affecting their health. This allows them to identify and treat the cause at the root using a variety of therapies, rather than focusing on pharmaceutical options as conventional medicine often does.
What training and qualifications does a naturopath need?
Despite there being no laws currently in place to regulate the practice of naturopathy in the UK, there are various professional associations that have been established in a bid to protect the public from practitioners who have not received the proper training.
These professional associations are a safe resource for members of the public who are in search of a practitioner, as the organisations ensure professional standards and fitness to practice in all members and require potential members to agree to comply with their code of ethics and complaints procedure as well as checking they hold the appropriate insurance.
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