A naturopath is a medical practitioner who believes in harnessing the natural power of the body to heal itself, using natural and holistic means. The exact qualifications and certifications of a naturopath vary widely, as regulation differs around the world. As a general rule, a naturopath offers complementary medicine, rather than primary care, and a naturopath may choose to refer a patient to another practitioner to treat certain conditions.
Naturopathy assumes that the body naturally strives for wellness and stability, and that with a little help, the body can be encouraged to be healthy. To achieve this, a naturopath relies on a number of treatments, ranging from massage therapy and other physical treatments to counseling. The intent is for patient and care provider to work together as a team, addressing the patient's body holistically. Like many other alternative medical practices, naturopathy places a heavy focus on preventative medicine, and at getting to the root cause of a problem, rather than treating the symptoms alone.
Drugs and surgery are not offered by a naturopath, although a patient who clearly needs these services will be referred to a medical doctor by a reputable naturopath. The naturopath can offer herbal treatments, homeopathy, and acupuncture, as well as nutritional and life counseling. The team of patient and naturopath may also devise a healthy exercise program which is intended to build strength and well being. Most naturopaths believe that they are empowering patients, rather than just treating them.
The roots of naturopathy can be found in the late 1800s, when a number of American doctors started to consider alternative medical treatments because they had lost faith in the medical establishment. Some of these individuals were also aware of the potential commercial value in “natural” medicine. The first schools for the study of naturopathy were founded in the early 1900s, and they continued to attract numerous students until the 1940s, when mainstream medicine developed antibiotics and synthetic drugs. Patients still see a limited number of naturopaths today, although not as much as they once did.
In some cases, a naturopath may be a fully board licensed physician with a focus on natural remedies, belonging to a trade association which monitors practicing naturopaths. In other instances, a naturopath may be a more traditional alternative care provider. Patients who are interested in seeing a naturopath may want to research regulations in their regions, to understand what they are getting into. It is also an excellent idea to interview any care provider about individual certifications and philosophy.