Nature is astonishingly resilient. The living organism possesses an inherent tendency to revert to the normal, healthy state and to overcome adversity, injury or disease. This complex biological process is known as healing. Naturopaths look for the potential for health, finding supportive measures towards healing. The healing power of nature is ordered, intelligent and virtually miraculous, provided that it can occur unobstructed.
A Detailed Description of Naturopathic Philosophy
The cardinal tenets of naturopathic medicine are:
– Primum non nocere – First do no harm
– Prohibere quam sanare – Prevention rather than “cure”
– Corpus totem curare – Treating the whole person
– Ponos vs Pathos – Acute and chronic disease
– Tolle causum – Identify the cause
– Vis medicatrix naturae – The healing power of nature
– Docere – Doctor as educator
– Caveat emptor – The buyer is responsible/Buyer Beware!.
The naturopathic physician (naturopath) must be fully aware of, and have the utmost respect for, the innate ability of the living organism to defend and heal itself on a multiplicity of levels. Inappropriate, meddlesome interference, often applied with the best of intentions in the guise of therapy, may do more harm than good. Conversely, failure to recognise the need for urgent referral in a clinical emergency may prove fatal. Thankfully, most cases seen by a naturopath are not so extreme, and wherever possible, non-suppressive management of acute, sub-acute and chronic disease is the rule. In this way, the symptoms of disease are encouraged to develop into their full, vital expression, with a minimum of intervention. This approach must, however, be tempered with observation, vigilance, knowledge and clinical competence, should crisis management or timely referral be necessary.
In general, naturopathic therapeutic protocols tend to be non-violent, non-toxic, non-invasive and probiotic. They include enabling and re-empowering strategies, which hand control back to the patient when a crisis of healing is over.
Prohibere quam sanare,” Prevention rather than “cure:”
The “magic bullet” approach to the treatment and “cure” of disease is anathema to the naturopath. The “pill for every ill” is an optimistic but unrealistic concept. Ultimately, the simple fact is that our level of wellness is, to a very large extent, dependent upon our state of mind, how we choose to live, the level of chronic stress that we experience, our environment, and our attitudes.
Recognising this, the naturopath works with the patient in setting goals toward a lifestyle that is health-promoting. This may mean changes in diet, occupation, environment or exercise routines whenever possible or appropriate. Contrary to popular misconception, a naturopath does not “just give vitamins”! The fields of influence that naturopathy addresses go beyond the patient as an individual, into social, economic or ecological issues, nurturing a positive, responsible attitude towards self and others, since true health cannot be anything but a shared experience.
Corpus totem curare “Treating the whole person:”
Health and disease are not discrete, mutually exclusive entities, but points on a continuum which are influenced by complex, interacting forces (e.g. nutritional, climatic, emotional, social, hereditary, spiritual, etc.). For health, or “wholth” to exist at all, these forces must be balanced in a dynamic equilibrium by a lifestyle which offsets the stresses they impose and supports our self-regulating, “homeostatic” mechanisms.
Sadly the term “holistic” has become something of a cliché in recent years, but this principle has always been at the core of naturopathic healthcare philosophy, and is summarised in the phrases: “treat the patient, not the disease”, and “the part cannot be separated from the whole”. For this reason, naturopathic health practitioners recognise that an imbalance, deficiency or “overload” on one level will inevitably cause compensatory repercussions on all other levels, since structure, function and behaviour are reciprocally inter-related. This means that emotional disturbances may affect organs or muscles, that spinal problems may affect the gut, and that poor nutrition may affect our emotional poise, and so on. Hence in naturopathic medicine, treatment is considered more in terms of achieving readjustment or reintegration than correction or cure.
Ponos vs Pathos “Acute and chronic disease:”
From the naturopathic viewpoint disease is not caused merely by the opportunistic invasion of the host by so-called “pathogens” but by numerous contributory factors which challenge homoeostasis and disrupt the steady state of the body’s internal environment. The resultant of these accumulative “stressors” is met, and hopefully neutralised by a vital, physiological response which restores equilibrium and health. Naturally this process involves a degree of turmoil, inflammation and discomfort; the symptoms of acute disease are expressions of this critical biological conflict. Therefore, acute disease is not regarded as a necessarily “bad” thing, and the naturopath may actually welcome this event, seeking to manage it with as little interference as possible, and recognising it as a sign that nature has begun her house-clearing efforts. Once this has occurred, the normal physiology may take the ascendant over pathological processes, and eradicate chronic disease from the system.
This phenomenon of the “healing crisis” is well documented, and requires skilful and decisive clinical management in order to minimise the risk of residual damage to tissues or organs. This may be achieved by non-suppressive methods such as fasting, hydrotherapy and bedrest. Mismanagement or suppression of the acute episode often converts it into its more harmful, chronic form, thus lowering vitality, causing generalised toxaemia and seriously impairing the patient’s quality of life. This principle has long been recognised by practitioners of homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine, and is now gaining some acceptance amongst conventional medical practitioners.
Tolle causum “Identify the cause:”
Diagnosis in the conventional, allopathic medical sense is of secondary importance to the naturopath since we aim to treat people, not diseases, and the giving of impressive Greek names to certain vague complaints has never been an accurate method of isolating either the cause or the cure. In naturopathic diagnosis, local signs and symptoms are more often interpreted as indicators of deeper and wider imbalances (often in remote body systems). This means that the patient’s constitution and lifestyle, culture and personality all have to be taken into account.
Notwithstanding this, standard clinical tests for blood pressure, urinalysis, neurological function and so on are routinely performed, and on occasion blood tests or tissue mineral analyses may be of help in ascertaining the primary causative factor in disease. Although disease is invariably multifactoral in its causation, there is usually a significant exciting, maintaining or predisposing cause that needs to be isolated and addressed. Treatment of disease symptoms, whilst remaining ignorant of the cause, is likely to have a depleting and suppressive effect causing eventual chronicity and degeneration.
Vis medicatrix naturae “The healing power of nature:”
Nature is astonishingly resilient. Naturopaths were not the first to notice that the living organism possesses an inherent tendency to revert to the normal, and to overcome adversity, injury or disease. It is ordered, intelligent and virtually miraculous – provided that it can occur unobstructed. Nature has her own wisdom, and the greater part of naturopathic work consists of removing obstacles to nature’s healing power, the vis medicatrix naturae, thereby allowing her to complete the task unhindered.
Docere “Doctor as educator:”
American naturopathic physicians insist on the use of the prefix “Dr” for good reason; the original root of the word doctor meant “teacher”, “leader” or educator”, hence it is also the root of the word “educate”. In this sense, the early naturopaths can justly claim to have been the first health educators, and this field of endeavour still takes precedence over most other areas of naturopathic practice In the UK, non-medically qualified naturopaths generally avoid the use of the term “doctor” or “physician” for legal reasons, but nevertheless subscribe to the same principle of practitioner as “health educator”. This, however, does not mean indiscriminate advice-giving. Rather a competent, responsible naturopath will take time and effort to remain up-to-date on current developments in health, medical and related fields in order to be able to deliver accurate, informed, reliable and appropriate answers to patients’ queries.
Conversely, patients are encouraged to seek information rather than advice, to recognise viable options and to make their own informed decisions with regard to their health, and the health of their families. This may prove of particular importance with regard to controversial issues such as vaccination/immunisation, nutrition, fasting, contraception, HRT, etc.
Caveat Emptor “The buyer is responsible/Buyer Beware:”
Ultimately, health cannot be had from a pill-bottle or bought from a therapist. Each individual must take ownership and personal responsibility for the maintenance of his or her mind, body and environment. No helper, doctor or therapist can do the job for us, and it should be clearly understood that the route to optimal health, performance and the fulfillment of potential can be demanding on patient and practitioner alike. Such a path requires knowledge, understanding, conviction, and a wholesome self-discipline, with some inspiration and encouragement from a naturopath who practices what he preaches.