What Is Naturopathy?

Naturopathy – also referred to as naturopathic medicine – is a system of medicine based on the healing power of nature. It is considered a holistic form of healing, in that naturopathic doctors attempt to find the cause of a disease by understanding the patient from the perspectives of mind, body and spirit.

Naturopaths provide a wide range of natural treatments, depending on their educational background and the scope of practice allowed in the state in which they practice. A naturopathic practitioner may offer nutritional counseling, herbal remedies, homeopathic formulas, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, hydrotherapy, physical medicine (such as touch, hot and cold compresses, and ultrasound), detoxification, and lifestyle counseling. While some states allow NDs to prescribe certain drugs as part of the treatment process, the first emphasis is on managing a patient’s condition by natural means.

Naturopathy – A Brief History

The term “naturopathy” was coined just prior to the 20th century, and has commonly been attributed to Benedict Lust, a German immigrant, who introduced the therapy to the United States and founded the first naturopathic institution, the American School of Naturopathy, in New York in 1902. The school emphasized methods such as natural cures, proper bowel habits, nutrition, dietary and lifestyle changes, and good hygiene to help obtain optimal health. Based in large part to Lust’s efforts, naturopathy gained much promotion and legitimacy, with licensing laws being passed in several states in the 1920s and 1930s.

In the 1940s, the popularity of naturopathy began to decline, due in part to Lust’s death, along with in-fighting between various schools of natural medicine and improvements in conventional medicine’s technology and political power. Many naturopathic colleges were forced to close, and some states either repealed naturopathic laws or limited the types of procedures naturopaths could perform.

Interest in naturopathy began to increase in the next few decades. In 1956, the first modern naturopathic institution, the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, opened in Portland, Oregon. Currently, there are four accredited U.S. naturopathic schools and two accredited Canadian naturopathic programs. In addition, the number of states that have recognized the ability of naturopaths to practice has increased significantly in the past 25 years. Currently, 14 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington), along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, regulate the practice of naturopathy. Several Canadian provinces also license naturopathic practitioners.

Because so few states are currently licensed and there are only a handful of accredited naturopathic colleges, educational background and training can vary widely within the profession. Some naturopathic doctors/physicians complete rigorous training at an accredited naturopathic program, with coursework similar in many respects to that completed by a medical doctor. For other naturopathic practitioners, educational training may involve a far less stringent curriculum.