Naturopathy is one of the most popular forms of complementary medicine in Australia today. It emphasises holistic disease prevention through natural, therapeutic methods. It’s based on the principle that the body has an intrinsic ability to heal itself, with the body, mind, and emotions supportive during the healing process.
Patients who undergo naturopathic treatments are treated as individuals, and treatment involves the entire body, not just the area of their body that is affected. The focus is also on the cause of health issues, not just the symptoms.
But what does a naturopath do, exactly? What qualifications do they need, and what conditions do they treat?
What is a naturopath?
Naturopaths perform over 4.9 million consultations in Australia every year. They will often recommend a combination of therapies and use preventative medicine practices to ensure the body heals, restores, and nourishes itself to remain strong and vital. The six foundation principles that naturopaths practise are:
- First, do no harm
- The healing power of nature
- Find and treat the cause whenever possible, not only the symptoms
- Doctor as teacher
- Treat the whole person
- Education and prevention
Naturopaths also differ from nutritionists and herbalists — a nutritionist uses nutritional therapy to correct health issues, and a herbalist works solely with herbal medicines.
What’s involved in naturopathic practice?
Naturopaths will typically work alongside your doctor or other health professionals to offer the best possible patient-centred care. They will use non-invasive and natural treatments that work in harmony with the body’s own healing mechanisms. Naturopaths will also focus on disease prevention and the influence of the environment, lifestyle, and emotions on a patient’s holistic health. Naturopathy is suitable for people of all ages, and can alleviate a wide range of conditions.
The process and methods naturopaths undertake to treat clients can differ depending on the modalities they’ve studied, as well as their healing philosophy. A naturopath will typically start by asking you questions about your lifestyle, diet, stress, bowel habits, energy levels, sleep quality, environment, family background, and any history of illness. After compiling a detailed health history, then may then also use other techniques, including:
- Integrated bio-dynamics (IBD)
- Blood analysis
- Stool and urine analysis
- Hair analysis
- Functional testing
They will then design a treatment plan to support your body’s ability to heal itself. They will advise you on which areas of your body need treatment and which body systems are under pressure. Treatment options, what your treatment journey will look like, and what treatments and supplements will cost will also be discussed. They may then use a range of non-invasive techniques to treat you, including:
- Administering herbal medicines or nutritional supplements to treat and prevent a range of illnesses.
- Offering dietary and nutritional advice to restore balance, assist with detoxification and disease prevention. This can include recommending patients avoid or eat certain foods.
- Recommending detoxification in terms of undertaking a cleansing diet, and eliminating tea, coffee, tobacco, and alcohol.
- Giving lifestyle advice to promote wellbeing and reduce stress.
- Undertaking hydrotherapy to stimulate the body’s immune system and natural defences.
- Using heat/cold packs and compresses to stimulate organ function, reduce pain, and influence the flow of blood and body heat.
Some naturopaths also:
- Use flower essences and/or herbal medicines to enhance the emotional aspects of healing.
- Manipulate soft tissue to enhance detoxification, reduce pain and rebalance the body's systems.
- Administer homeopathic medicines that use predominantly plant, mineral and animal substances to stimulate the body’s own healing responses.
- Practise psychological counselling, including encouraging meditation and relaxation techniques.
- Administer massage therapy, Bowel therapy, acupressure, mechanotherapy, bio-puncture, reflexology, acupuncture and/or homeopathy techniques.
What conditions do naturopaths treat
Naturopaths will typically formulate a holistic health plan that targets a variety of deficiencies and imbalances to help patients understand how their diet, lifestyle, environment, stress levels, and relationships could be impacting their health. These include:
- Digestive or gastrointestinal issues
- Low immunity or energy
- General aches and pains
- Stress-related ailments
- Hormone imbalance, fertility issues and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Male and female reproductive health
- Skin, sleep and weight concerns
- Cardiovascular issues
- Migraines and headaches
- Joint health and degenerative illnesses, including arthritis
It’s also worth mentioning that natural remedies aren’t a “quick fix” solution. They work on healing the body over time and offer a long-term solution to health problems. A change in your symptoms will depend on your age, the severity of your symptoms and how long you have had your health condition/s. Some patients start to feel results within a couple of days, but for others, it will take a few weeks or even longer. Typically, naturopaths will be keen to know of your progress between consultations and will suggest follow-up appointments, including an annual check-up.
Do naturopaths need to be qualified?
The Australian Medical Association has stated that "evidence-based aspects of complementary medicine can be part of patient care by a medical practitioner.”
There are also no formal prerequisites for becoming a naturopath. However, it is recommended that if you choose to undertake any naturopathic therapies, you engage with one that has expertise that aligns with your specific health needs. They should also have qualifications, registrations and memberships relating to the field. A national code of conduct bounds all naturopaths, so their clinical environment must be clean, tidy and not expose their clients to any risk of injury or infection.
Ideally, naturopaths should hold either a Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) or an Advanced Diploma of Applied Science (Naturopathy). These qualifications are available from colleges, universities and naturopathic schools. Courses typically involve three to four years of full-time study and over 300 hours of campus tuition in subjects ranging from psychology, biology, pharmacology and biochemistry to pathology, nutrition and herbal medicine.
The naturopathic profession continues to be self-regulated, however, there is a national register — the Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists (ARONAH). This was established to provide education and the minimum standards of practice for naturopathy. These include:
- Code of Conduct
- Proof of identity requirements
- Criminal history register standard
- English language skills register standard
- Guidelines for the advertising of naturopathic and Western herbal medicine services
- Professional indemnity insurance registration standards
- Guidelines for professional development
- Guidelines for patient record-keeping
- Recency of practice guidelines
- General registration requirements
- Limited registration requirements
- Non-practising registration requirements
- Competency standards (naturopaths)
- Competency standards (herbalists)
Many naturopaths in Australia are members of professional bodies such as ours.
Associations tend to only accept members who have tertiary qualifications in the field of naturopathy. They also require members to have professional indemnity insurance, a current First Aid certificate and are committed to continuing education to remain up-to-date with scientific advancements.
What is the history of naturopathy?
The term naturopathy originates from the Greek root for suffering (“pathos”) and the Latin root for birth (“natura”) and suggests “natural healing.” The first advocate of naturopathic medicine is said to be Hippocrates, however, the modern form of naturopathy is traced to 18th and 19th-century “natural healing” systems. These include “nature cures”, which were the use of light, food, air, water and herbs (developed in Austria), and hydrotherapy (popular in Germany), which was the use of water to treat illness.
The term naturopathy was coined in 1895 by John Scheel and purchased by Benedict Lust, whom naturopaths consider to be the "Father of U.S. Naturopathy.” Lust had been schooled in hydrotherapy and other natural health practices in Germany by his father, who sent Lust to America to spread his drugless methods. Lust first introduced naturopathy to America in 1901, when he founded the American School of Naturopathy.
It emphasised the use of natural health practices, including homeopathy, hydrotherapy, herbal medicines, the avoidance of overeating, and the elimination of coffee, tea and alcohol from the diet. The school also emphasised proper bowel habits and good hygiene as essential tools for health. This was the first time dietary principles, like minimising saturated fats and increasing fibre in the diet, became popular.
Naturopaths eventually became licensed under drugless practitioner and naturopathic laws, therapies were adopted by many chiropractors, and several universities offered Doctor of Naturopathy (ND) degrees and Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degrees.
Today, naturopaths are licensed primary care providers in many states and offer information and advice on a variety of alternative and complementary therapies, including homeopathy, relaxation techniques, herbal remedies, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and vitamin and mineral supplements.