Selecting Naturopaths: 7 things to look at

Are you considering visiting a naturopathic physician and not sure how to select one? This article provides a bit of info to assist you in locating not just a naturopath, but a good naturopath.

Naturopathic medicine is an alternative medicine approach that emphasizes using a natural medicine, whole person approach to prevent, diagnose and treat health conditions. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) specialize in natural healthcare, integrating conventional medicine approaches with dietary and lifestyle advice. Naturopaths use a range of therapies to support patients health, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, detoxification, nutritional counseling, homeopathic medicine and lifestyle and psychological counseling.

Naturopathy emphasizes holistic treatment, addressing the underlying cause of illness and aims to restore the body’s natural balance using complementary therapies. In contrast, conventional medicine focuses on symptom treatment. Naturopaths also spend more time understanding patients’ overall health.

Generally, NDs are not covered by insurance, though some ND services might be covered by some plans. Licensure for NDs is an issue, since only about half of U.S. states offer licensure to these physicians. As of May 13, 2024, according to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC), “In the United States: 26 jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands all have laws regulating naturopathic doctors.” So, it’s possible that naturopaths are not licensed to practice in your state.

As you consider naturopathy, what criteria should you evaluate in your search for your naturopathic physician? Consider the following:

Traditional Naturopath vs. Naturopathic Doctor (ND, NMD)

According to the AANMC, there’s an important distinction to be made:

  • Traditional naturopaths are not licensed to diagnose or prescribe.
  • Naturopathic doctors (NDs/NMDs), who are trained as primary care physicians, are licensed to diagnose or prescribe.
  • In some states without regulation, traditional naturopaths can use the title naturopathic doctor, leading to confusion for patients seeking licensed NDs.

Are you looking for an ND with a specialty?

Is the prospective naturopathic physician knowledgeable across a range of areas or focused on a specialty? What’s important to you, comprehensive care or specialized expertise? Some naturopaths specialize in women’s health, men’s health, sports medicine, pediatrics, oncology and gastroenterology, for example.

Visit The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) website. There, you’ll find listings of naturopathic physicians. Search by zip code or by city and state.

Unlike an allopathic physician who will give you 15 minutes, prescribe your meds and send you on your way, therapy with a naturopathic physician is often ongoing, which means it might require several visits to treat and counsel you. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to place special emphasis on the location of the physician’s office.

Where did the physician receive their medical training? Is the institution reputable, accredited, well-known, recognizable? Visit the naturopathic medical schools section of the AANMC website.

As for me, I seem to be partial to Bastyr University graduates, because when I did visit with a naturopathic doctor, I visited a Bastyr graduate. I really liked him. From what I can determine, Bastyr is highly respected. But if I visit naturopathy again, I’ll keep an open mind. Unfortunately, NDs are not licensed in the state of Georgia.

Though this is at the bottom of the list, it should probably be at the top. This is one of the most important determinants in your choice. Your naturopathic physician’s website is revelatory and speaks loudly about the physician and their values. Screams, actually.

So, what should you assess when you visit your prospective naturopathic physician’s website?

  • Is it professional in appearance, design and usability?
  • Does it boast sensible, user-friendly site architecture and navigation?
  • Is the font appropriately sized for easy reading?
  • Is the font an appropriate, easy-to-read color?
  • Is the website crude — littered with ads, multiple colors and fonts of varying sizes and colors?
  • Are text and images poorly formatted?
  • Is important information hidden or non-existent?
  • Is thoughtless, drivel presented instead?

Is the copy intelligent, well-written and professionally edited? I believe this is an unequivocal indicator of the kind of care you can expect to receive. If the copy is second-rate, it’s because of one or two reasons:

  1. The physician, not a professional writer, wrote the copy themselves and allowed hubris to take center stage, refusing to pay a writer to write it or an editor to review it.
  2. The physician arranged for someone to write the copy and exercised poor judgment in their selection of the writer / editor.

Besides clinical expertise, we want our health partners to come equipped with common sense. If arrogance prevails or if the website is amateurish, then the physician is uninterested in the user experience on their website. This dismissal of the user/patient/prospective patient experience and unwillingness to enhance that experience points to an ineptness that brings into question the physician’s professional judgment and manner.

It’s worth asking if your naturopath can coordinate your treatment with your conventional physician or PCP. If you can, find a naturopath who will collaborate with your doctor if you’re currently under the care of a conventional doctor and/or taking prescription medicine. Naturopaths certainly understand the correlations between their treatments and traditional medications.

You never know who does what. So, ask around. More than one-third of Americans use some form of complementary and alternative (CAM) medicine. In the United States 38% of adults 18 or older and 12% of kids 17 and under use alternative therapies.

This is a starting point. Conduct your due diligence as you seek out your naturopath. Keep in mind that holism and holistic health are generally understood to be natural, highly evolved, harmless and upright – but that doesn’t mean all its practitioners are. Don’t just assume that your naturopathic physician will be all those things. Like the rest of the world, the microcosm of alternative healing is filled with shysters, charlatans and scoundrels. So, do your homework and ask questions.

When it comes to your health, you have the power to choose the right option. Don’t rush. Just take your time to find the type of naturopathic practitioner to suit your needs. And make sure you find someone who’s a good fit for you.

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