Each year, the first full week of October is designated as Naturopathic Medicine Week. That week is set aside as a time to celebrate the unique profession and philosophy dedicated to making one whole. For the year 2020, Naturopathic Medicine Week is October 4-10. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) describes that, “Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process.”1 Some of the core tenets of naturopathic medicine include: emphasizing prevention and education, empowering patients to be active participants in their healing process and bringing awareness to how they are connected to their environment, respecting the individuals innate healing ability and order, doing no harm by following a therapeutic order designed to treat in the gentlest form possible, treating the whole person, and identifying root causes to their disease. Whether you see a Naturopathic Physician or not, Naturopathic Medicine Week is an opportunity to celebrate the ideas of patient-centered care, holism, and healing.
The idea of patient-centered care is re-shaping the healthcare industry as we realize that our current system has shortcomings. We currently have a disease-oriented system of healthcare written into the very fabric of its coding system. While in a hospital you may hear doctors or nurses on rounds refer to a patient as the “kidney stone in room 12” or the “appendectomy down the hall” or other disease-oriented identifiers. I have also heard from those who after a procedure, surgery, or treatment realized they weren’t provided other options or told what to expect during or afterward. In comparison, in a patient-centered model you are respected first as a person, and as an equal in the decision-making process. You are educated about all options and it is explained how each could be tailored to you individually along with the risks, benefits and obstacles to each. This is a system that considers the patients desires, needs, beliefs, and resources and matches it with available services, even if that means sending the patient elsewhere for more appropriate care. Patient-centered care also means taking into consideration the whole person. As medicine has become more and more specialized it has become easier and easier for doctors to become so focused on an individual problem or disease that they miss the forest for the trees. Naturopathic medicine and patient-centered care calls for a return to the forest view, where the parts are recognized as part of the whole working in concert one with another.
Naturopathic medicine employs the best practices from traditional and modern medicine. This is important because it honors the wisdom of the past, while taking advantage of new technologies and understanding to provide the best form of healthcare. In a society sick of the “pill for every ill” and “quick to cut” way of doing things, which often leave patients feeling unheard, it provides much needed options. Let me be perfectly clear, there is a time and a place for pharmaceuticals and surgery. However, these treatment modalities were designed to be a last resort and for emergency use, rather than as a first resort and standard primary care. Proper nutrition, physical activity, meditation and other mental, emotional or spiritual grounding tools are critical components to creating, maintaining, and regaining health. These are the basic treatment tools. Note that the side effect profile of these treatments is vastly different from pharmaceuticals and surgery. We cannot afford to wait until disease is so far advanced that pharmaceuticals and surgery are required; yet that is often the entry point for our healthcare system. Once people are placed on those interventions often there is little incentive to restore health to the point where those interventions are no longer necessary. Naturopathic medicine looks to restore health, not only suppress disease.
Let’s look at an example, someone with chronic anxiety will be given a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. The anxiety goes away so long as they remain on the prescription. If you are ok with taking that prescription forever and the likely side effects that follow its chronic use then I suppose that could be the end of it. However, what happens if you get another disease and your anxiety medication either exacerbates it or interacts with your new medication? Or what if it begins to lose its efficacy over time? The prescription is not a cure and it doesn’t address the root cause, so the disease remains, only masked. There is nothing wrong with using the prescription to help stabilize, but unless something is done to discover why it is occurring in the first place and address that, then healing has not occurred. We can either view anxiety as the problem, or we can recognize that this is an individual’s intelligent adaptation to a disruption, and therefore an indicator of where the disease truly lies. If we view anxiety as the problem we need only suppress it. If however, anxiety is intelligent adaptation, then it points in the direction of cure and suppressing it may make healing more difficult. Once the root cause is identified and removed, healing proceeds uninhibited and there is no need for medication. Naturopathic medicine honors this process of intelligent healing which we call the vis medicatrix naturae or healing power of nature.
The Peterson Clinic has a longstanding tradition of Naturopathic Medicine with over 60 years of naturopathic care and ideals. As we celebrate naturopathic medicine week we invite you to learn more by visiting the Institute for Natural Medicine’s FAQ series linked below2 or scheduling a visit at the clinic. May you find healing and become whole.