The BioSpiritual Foundations of Naturopathy

Naturopathy is a health and healing discipline that aligns well with the biospiritual principles expressed on this website. Holistic in scope, naturopathy acknowledges the healing power of nature and the innate wisdom of the body. Disease and dysfunction are viewed as the body’s attempt at self-cleansing and regeneration in order to self-heal.

The holistic principles of this healing system come from a deep history of traditional philosophies and practices. In essence, an understanding of the body, mind and the spirit of a person is sought so as to reveal the underlying cause of disease.

Thus, the two areas of focus in naturopathy are - supporting the body’s own self-healing tendencies, and expanding one’s awareness of lifestyle choices, beliefs and behaviors that either support or undermine good health.

Following is an overview of the history and evolution of naturopathy, the three types of practitioners, the basic principles and theories of healing practice, and the common healing methods in use today.

A Brief History of Naturopathy

The roots of naturopathic medicine are thousands of years old and draw upon the healing wisdom of many cultures including Greek (Hippocratic), European (monastic medicine), Indian (Ayurvedic), Chinese (Taoist), Arabian and Egyptian traditions.

Many of the principles and philosophies of what has come to be known as naturopathy were established in Germany and Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Prior to 1900s, naturopaths from around the world were trained by European doctors using hydrotherapy, herbal medicine and other traditional forms of healing.

North America is considered the home of modern naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine, tracing its origin to Dr. Benedict Lust, a German immigrant to the United States in 1902. Dr. Lust came to the U.S. to practice and teach the hydrotherapy techniques popularized by Sebastian Kneipp in Europe.  He founded the American School of Naturopathy which taught these techniques as well as an expanded practice that incorporated all natural methods of healing, including botanical medicines, nutritional therapy, physiotherapy, psychology (mind–body connection), homeopathy and the manipulative therapies.

What’s known as “Traditional Naturopathy” is a system of healthcare that incorporates the traditional medicine of a country and its peoples with the naturopathic principles, theories, modalities and traditions that have been codified in North America. Traditional forms of naturopathic teaching and practice are still common in Europe.

The Three Types of Practitioners

In the United States, naturopathy is practiced by naturopathic physicians, traditional naturopaths, and other health care practitioners who also offer naturopathic services. Education and licensing differ for each:

Naturopathic physicians generally complete a 4-year, graduate-level program at one of the North American naturopathic medical schools accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. Some U.S. states and territories have licensing requirements for naturopathic physicians; others don’t. In those jurisdictions that have licensing requirements, naturopathic physicians must graduate from a 4-year naturopathic medical college and pass an examination to receive a license. They must also fulfill annual continuing education requirements.

Traditional naturopaths, also known simply as “naturopaths,” may receive training in a variety of ways. Training programs vary in length and content and are not accredited by organizations recognized for accreditation purposes by the U.S. Department of Education. Traditional naturopaths are often not eligible for licensing.

Other health care providers (such as physicians, osteopathic physicians, chiropractors, dentists, and nurses) sometimes offer naturopathic treatments, functional medicine, and other holistic therapies, having pursued additional training in these areas. Training programs vary.

The Six Principles of Naturopathic Healing

The practice of naturopathic medicine emerges from six principles of healing. These ancient principles were officially codified and accepted by the two North American national naturopathic associations - American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND) - in 1989. The principles generally in practice today include:

First do no harm — primum no nocere

The process of healing includes the generation of symptoms, which are, in fact, expressions of the life force of the body attempting to heal itself. Therapeutic actions should be complementary to and synergistic with this healing process. The practitioner’s role is to support rather than antagonize the healing power of nature; so, methods designed to suppress symptoms without removing underlying causes are considered harmful and are avoided or minimized.

Healing power of nature — vis medicatrix naturae

The body has the innate ability to self-heal. The healing process is ordered and intelligent; nature heals through the response of the life force. The practitioner’s role is to facilitate and aid this process, to identify and remove barriers to health and recovery, and to support the creation of a healthy internal and external environment.

Identify and treat the cause — tolle causam

Illness has cause. Causes may occur on many levels, including physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual. The underlying causes must be identified and removed or treated before a person can recover completely from illness. Symptoms are expressions of the body’s attempt to self-heal, but are not the cause of disease. The practitioner primarily addresses the underlying causal level of the illness and also seeks relief of symptoms.

Treat the whole person — in perturbato animo sicut in corpore sanitas esse non potest

Health and disease are holistic conditions, involving a complex interaction of physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, and social factors. The whole person is treated by taking all of these factors into account using a personalized and comprehensive approach to identify causal conditions and develop treatment.

Doctor as teacher — docere

The practitioner’s main role is to educate and encourage the patient to take responsibility for his or her own health; to be a catalyst for change that empowers and motivates the patient to assume responsibility. The patient, not the doctor, ultimately creates or accomplishes healing.

Disease prevention and health promotion— principiis obsta: sero medicina curator

The ultimate goal of naturopathic medicine is prevention. This is accomplished through education and promotion of lifestyle habits that foster good health. The emphasis is on creating health rather than fighting disease. It’s difficult to be healthy in an unhealthy world, so the creation of healthy mental, emotional, and physical environments is promoted.

Naturopathic Theories

Naturopathic theories practiced around the world include:

  • Vital Force (vis vitalis) / Theory of vitality
  • Theory of Complex Systems
  • Unity of disease
  • Hering Law of Cure
  • Therapeutic Order
  • Emunctories
  • Naturopathic  modalities - detoxification, revitalization, stabilization, and regeneration
  • Theory of Toxemia
  • Naturopathic Triad of Health
  • Humoral Theory

Naturopathic Modalities

Naturopathic modalities or therapies used around the world vary by country. Some of the more common treatments used by practitioners include:

  • Nutritional counseling
  • Botanical medicines – herbology, aromatherapy
  • Homeopathic medicine
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine/Acupuncture
  • Hydrotherapy (water therapy) -- These therapies include drinking natural spring water, taking baths, alternating hot and cold applications, and water exercise, all of which are thought to stimulate healing and strengthen the immune system.
  • Nature therapy – sun, light and air therapies
  • Physical medicine -- This natural approach to healing involves using touch, hot and cold compresses, electric currents, and sound waves to manipulate the muscles, bones, and spine.
  • Other manipulative and/or exercise therapies
  • Practitioner Guided detoxification -- Removing toxins from the body by fasting, using enemas, and drinking lots of water.
  • Spirituality -- Personal spiritual development is encouraged as part of an overall health program.
  • Prevention, lifestyle and psychological counseling -- An N.D. may use hypnosis, guided imagery, or other counseling methods as part of a treatment plan

The principles and theories of naturopathy are complimentary to a biospiritual paradigm that acknowledges a four-fold body/mind/soul/spirit interconnection.  So much so, that, naturopathic healing modalities are foundational to the biospiritual philosophy of this website and are promoted as primary healing disciplines of choice.

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