the what, the principles, the therapeutic order, and the training



Although the words “natural” and “holistic” have become major buzz words in recent years, these are not novel ideas in the world of health and medicine. They are, in fact, much more closely related to the exact opposite; these were dominant themes in medicine for centuries, prior to the beginnings of modern medicine. A system of medicine born from a combination of these age-old principles, knowledge, and techniques is Naturopathy. Naturopathy, or Naturopathic medicine, has seen a tremendous growth in the past several years, and for good reason. However, many are still unfamiliar with the profession and what it really entails. So, here is a brief overview of Naturopathic medicine and what can be expected when seeing a Naturopathic Doctor. For your convenience, this blog post is also available as a video (here), and as a podcast (here). 


Naturopathic medicine is a form of medical care that has been around for over a hundred years, at the very least, but saw itself fade and almost completely diminish in the early 20th century. However, the last 3 or 4 decades have seen a tremendous growth in the profession, mainly due to a huge push from the general public demanding safe, cost-effective, preventative, natural, and holistic medicine that treats patients as individuals and not just a diagnosis or disease. An excerpt from the official website of the AANP  – which is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, say 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 an individuals’ inherent self-healing process. The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods.”

Now that sounds great and all, but what really makes naturopathic medicine different and distinct as a system of medicine? Well essentially, Naturopathic medicine is based on 6 main principles, and a therapeutic order that guides the level and force of intervention that should be used to affect a patient’s health.


THE Principles of naturopathic medicine

  1. The Healing Power of Nature – Vis Medicatrix Naturae
    • Naturopathic medicine acknowledges that there exists an inherent self-healing process in all living organisms that is both ordered and intelligent. The goal of naturopathic physicians is to recognize this, and remove the obstacles that are preventing this natural process from occurring in the patient, and to also augment this process.
  2. Identify and Treat the Cause(s) – Tolle Causam
    • There is a cause for all illness, disease, or general process in the body, and the naturopathic physician endeavors to find this cause and treat that. Treating anything that is a result of the cause, a reaction in the body, is symptomatic treatment and does not truly heal the patient.
  3. Treat the Whole Person – Tolle Totum
    • Along with treating the cause, the physician must recognize that the body is a whole, made up of physical, mental, social, emotional, genetic, environment, and spiritual aspects, among others. Therefore, medical practices must attempt to link these aspects and acknowledge the functioning of each one separately and cumulatively as a whole.
  1. First Do No Harm – Primum Non Nocere
    • Naturopathic physicians follow basic guidelines to ensure they are not harming the patient. This includes abiding by a therapeutic order (see below) of attempting lowest force interventions first, and only moving to higher force interventions when necessary. Also, this involves avoiding the harmful suppression of symptoms, respecting and not negatively affecting the patient’s natural healing process.
  2. Doctor as Teacher – Docere
    • My personal favorite, this principle revolves around the role that physicians play in their patient’s’ lives. The naturopathic physician must educate patients, encouraging self-responsibility for health, working to empower the individual with the desire to heal themselves.
  3. Prevention
    • The prevention of disease by assessing risk factors, susceptibility to disease, and more, is at the core of naturopathic medicine. By preventing illness, medicine becomes focused on optimizing health instead of fighting disease.



Establish The Conditions For Health, which happens by addressing the determinants of health and identifying and removing disturbing factors. This is basically establishing with patient’s an individualized healthy diet and lifestyle, and ensuring the presence of fresh air, exercise, healthy social interactions and personal practices.

The next, is to Stimulate the Vis – that first principle of naturopathic medicine. By Stimulating The Vis Medicatrix Naturae, you’re supporting the body’s inherent ability to heal itself.

The next level of intervention beyond this would be to Tonify Weakened Systems. This could be done through homeopathy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, diet, exercise, and more.

Following this, comes Correcting Structural Integrity, using Naturopathic manipulative techniques, exercise, and various other physical medicine techniques.

Beyond addressing all of this, the next step involves Addressing the Pathology Using Natural Substances. These substances can include supplements, herbs, nutraceuticals, homeopathy, or even certain foods in higher doses.

Finally, after this comes addressing Pathology Using Pharmacologic or Synthetic SubstancesThis is where prescription medications are considering in helping a patient overcome a strong pathology.

And if none of this works, the final step is to either Suppress the Pathology and Improve Quality of Life, or to Surgically Remove the Pathology. It’s important to understand that all aspects of medicine – conventional, Naturopathic, alternative, or otherwise, have their place in the complete system of available healthcare. So sometimes surgery is what is required, and this is something that is acknowledged by ND’s.

naturopathic medicine training


The scope of Naturopathic Medicine is quite vast, but varies by regional regulations. Due to such a large scope, the training looks somewhat similar to conventional medical school in some ways, especially in regards to basic sciences training. Naturopathic medical school is a 4 or 5 year accredited program, with both basic science and clinical board exams, and clinical entry and exit exams. So at it’s widest scope, Naturopathic diagnostic and therapeutic modalities will include: clinical and laboratory diagnostic testing, nutritional medicine, botanical medicine, Naturopathic physical medicine (including Naturopathic manipulative therapy, hydrotherapy, myofascial techniques, and more), public health measures, hygiene, counseling, minor surgery, homeopathy, acupuncture, prescription medications, intravenous and injection therapy, and Naturopathic obstetrics (natural childbirth and midwifery). With the training involved, and the scope of practice, its easy to see why Naturopathic physicians are becoming more and more sought after in North America and across the world.


Now outside of being primary care doctors, there are many ND’s that also specialize in a certain field or area of medicine. Some of these specialties include cardiology, physical medicine, injury and pain management, urology, men’s health, women’s women, pediatrics, geriatrics, Naturopathic oncology, gastroenterology and digestive health, environmental medicine and therapeutic detoxification, counseling and mind body medicine, biofeedback, neurological and behavioral medicine, dermatology, and more. Further, integrative practices that revolve around collaborative work between MD’s, DO’s, ND’s, and even DC’s are becoming more and more available and desired. When looking at healthcare in general – and this can be considered more of a personal view of healthcare – there’s a role for everyone to play in medicine, and integrative practices that involve multiple disciplines is the best way to achieve that.

So really, no matter what your healthcare and medical care needs are, there’s likely something that an ND can help with.

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”
– Thomas Edison, circa 1903



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