Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic medicine is an umbrella term for several traditions of natural healing whose main concern is healthy living and nutrition. Its principles differ in many ways from those of classical homeopathy, but its clinical recommendations can be used to complement homeopathic treatment.

The Distinction Between Classical Homeopathy and Naturopathic Medicine

Homeopathy is very often confused with other systems of alternative medicine.

The first reason is that the term “homeopathy” is little-known and is often confused with other, similar-sounding terms. But underlying this linguistic confusion is the fact that most people know little more than what they pick up from the media. This state of confusion extends even to many patients of homeopathy.

Homeopathy’s exotic appeal

The word “homeopathy” has an exotic ring to it that has lent to its being used in advertising a whole range of health products, mostly ones that have very little if anything to do with homeopathy. Thus it is very common to find people promoting some “homeopathic remedy” that has helped them or, conversely, complaining about how the “homeopath” that they visited failed to help.

Telling homeopathy apart from other natural therapies

Because of patients’ confusion about the matter, it is important to outline some distinctions between homeopathy and other systems that are at best cousins rather than siblings of homeopathy.

One of those is naturopathic medicine, a medical movement and profession that has recently positioned itself at the forefront of health-care innovation in North America, and is beginning to exert a worldwide influence.

Naturopathic medicine is a comprehensive medical approach which integrates scientific knowledge with several well-established alternative therapeutic systems. It combines what has been known as naturopathy (an approach based on correct living, optimal nutrition, and herbal medicine) with up-to-date medical knowledge and a multifaceted perspective on healing.

The scope of contemporary naturopathic medicine

In addition to the methods of traditional naturopathy, naturopathic medicine currently encompasses the use of Chinese medicine and acupuncture, classical homeopathy, physical manipulation, and more. Practitioners known as “Naturopathic Doctors” usually possess a common medical educational basis followed by a specialization in one or more of these disciplines, including homeopathy.

In contrast, a “Homeopathic Doctor” is generally a practitioner who has been trained as a naturopathic or a medical doctor before specializing in classical homeopathy, while a “homeopath” is a practitioner who has not had extensive medical education. But because there is no worldwide consensus about these terms, they are often used interchangeably.

Homeopaths focus on spiritual aspects of health

While homeopathic doctors do encourage a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, their treatment focus is not on the material aspects of health but on its spiritual aspects. Often people who consult with homeopaths have already made significant changes in their lives, but find these changes ineffective or else overly restrictive. In these cases there are internal factors that contribute to ill-health, such as a fixed way of thinking or of perceiving things in daily life.

The influence of vitalism

Ultimately naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, and other natural method all share in the ancient philosophical roots of vitalism. To read more about these shared vitalist roots, see The Influence of Vitalism on Naturopathic Medicine.

The Influence of Vitalism on Naturopathic Medicine

The philosophical perspective on which the naturopathic clinical approach is based is that of vitalism. According to vitalist philosophy, living beings are not machines running according to strict cause-and-effect relations, but are beings whose existence is guided by a single vital force.

This runs contrary to the “mechanistic” view underlying conventional medicine, which is based on the principle that it is possible to subdivide the body into components and analyze their function independently of the rest of the body. Following this subdivision, medical scientists commonly ‘put it all back together’ and assume that the models they have just created correctly represents real-life patients.

Sometimes their models are sufficiently true-to-reality, and conventional methods then prove effective. But often enough their models will not accurately represent the patients in front of them, and in such cases medicine will not provide adequate solutions.

What we’re made of (according to vitalists)

While vitalists admit that the mechanistic perspective of modern medicine is often very useful, they insist that it is limiting in many cases and ultimately incorrect. Vitalists claim that a more accurate way of analyzing people is by noticing their pattern of being.

Each of us is imbued with a vital force which guides and unifies our being. Its components are not body organs, tissues, cells, and molecules, but components such as:

  • heredity
  • early childhood environment
  • family relationships
  • social environment
  • temperament (psychological tendencies, strengths, weaknesses)
  • past medical interventions
  • past physical or psychological trauma
  • stressful life transitions
  • food intake
  • physical activity, and
  • exposure to environmental toxins.

Together these constitute the complex web of interacting factors that form the corporeal (physical) and spiritual (non-physical) self.

What vitality is (according to vitalists)

Vitalists and non-vitalists differ in their understanding of health. Mainstream scientists and modern medicine (following a non-vitalist philosophy) reject the non-physical self, while vitalists embrace it. Although many scientists believe in elements of the vitalist tradition, when they publicly discuss psychological phenomena they usually insist that they are talking simply of the operations of the brain. But vitalists analyze bodily illness mainly in terms of the spiritual factors that might be contributing to it.

In other words, the person’s spirit or vital force determines the health of the body in a very real way. Vitalists point to the fact that we often feel better or worse depending on the extent to which we are able to be the masters of our life, especially during times of stress. Disease, accoring to vitalists, is simply a more advanced stage of the stress that we exhibit when we persistently fail in the pursuit of physical and spiritual goals.

Clinical implications of vitalist philosophy

The vitalist philosophical perspective translates into naturopathic treatment methods that do not target symptoms directly but instead strive to shift the organism away from its current state toward a state of better overall health. In fact, interventions that target symptoms without addressing the underlying pattern are generally regarded as non-ideal or ‘suppressive’ and are used only as temporary measures.

Ultimately, the attainment better health commonly requires one to stop chasing symptoms as they arise but instead focus on fundamental, long-term improvement, even at the cost of short-term suffering. That this strategy is often capable of re-establishing a healthy state when conventional medicine has failed is regarded by vitalists (be they homeopathic or various naturopathic practitioners) as proof of the validity of their philosophy.