Naturopathy was first introduced in the United States in 1902 by Dr. Benedict Lust, a German immigrant, when he established the American School of Naturopathy. The term naturopathy itself was coined in 1985 by Dr. John Scheel of New York City and was purchased from him by Dr. Lust. Dr. Lust used the term to describe an eclectic collection of natural doctrines, or principles, that he believed would become the foundation of natural medicine.
The American School of Naturopathy taught the use of natural medicines, such as herbs, homeopathic remedies, and physical manipulation, in addition to teaching healthy daily behaviors, such as proper bowel habits and good hygiene, as the basis for health. This was the first time that principles of a healthy diet, such as increased fiber and reduced saturated fat, were promoted.
Several different schools of medicine emerged in the late 19th century to challenge allopathic medicine. These included, among others, homeopathy, chiropractics, osteopathy, and naturopathy. Each embodied principles of natural healing, supporting the body in different ways to promote health by stimulating the body's (and mind's) innate capacity to self-heal.
In 1908, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching commissioned Abraham Flexner, a high school principal, to research and report on medical schools in the United States. His report, published in 1910, changed the course of medicine. He recommended that medical education be more centralized under the watchful eye of the American Medical Association, and that the number of schools be decreased in order to promote the training of more qualified physicians. Speaking broadly, he proposed that a centralized medical system, organized and overseen by a small minority, replace the existing system comprised of individuals freely working in a competitive market place.
The Flexner report led to many educational reforms, increasing the number of years spent in school while decreasing the number of students who attend. As a result of the report, the total number of medical schools was reduced from 150 to 31. And support for naturopathy, along with other natural healing schools of medicine, declined accordingly. For the next 100 years, these, as well as all other non-allopathic approaches to medicine such as Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine & acupuncture, struggled, each in their own way, to continue to offer Americans the health benefits associated with their approaches to health and healing.
In 2009, Congressman Ron Paul, had the following to say about the Flexner Report:
“A lot of problems were created in 20th century as a consequence the Flexner Report (1910), which was financed by the Carnegie Foundation and strongly supported by the AMA. Many medical schools were closed and the number of doctors was drastically reduced.” – Ron Paul; September 24, 2009.
To read an interesting interpretation of this comment, go to:
Naturopathy is recognized today as a comprehensive and life-affirming approach to primary care. Naturopathic physicians are licensed to practice in sixteen states, in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands: Alasks, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. In Vermont, the Vermont legislature mandated in 2007, and again in 2011, that all health insurers in Vermont designate naturopaths as primary care providers.
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians defines naturopathic medicine as follows:
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care -an art, science, philosophy and practice of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness. Naturopathic medicine is distinguished by the principles which underlie and determine its practice. These principles are based upon the objective observation of the nature of health and disease, and are continually reexamined in the light of scientific advances. Methods used are consistent with these principles and are chosen upon the basis of patient individuality. Naturopathic physicians are trained as primary health care physicians whose diverse techniques include modern and traditional, scientific and empirical methods.
Primum non nocere
Naturopathic medical practice is grounded in principles of natural healing. The first of these is primum non nocere, which means first, do no harm in Latin. The principle of primum non nocere is a principle that naturopathic medicine shares with allopathic medicine. It refers to the physician's responsibility to first and foremost to avoid using treatments that cause harm. This principle is more complex than one might think.
For example, is prescribing a drug that causes physical side effects which are severe enough that the person needs to be given a second medication so that they can tolerate the side effects of the first drug an example of "causing harm"? Certainly, many allopathic clinicians would say "no", since prescribing to treat side effects is a common practice in conventional medicine today. A naturopathic physician, on the other hand, would only use this therapeutic approach as a last resort because, while one could indeed argue that it may be causing less "harm" than the medical condition being treated, it most certainly is causing additional discomfort to the person taking the medication.
The reality is that whether a treatment causes harm or not is not always clear, nor it is necessarily based in objective reality. Certainly, we would all would agree that a surgeon mistakenly amputating a limb that is healthy, instead of one that is not, is an example of causing harm. But in the preceding example, the distinction between what is harmful and what is not is much less clear. That is, is a drug side effect an example of doing harm, or not?
Then there is the question of how we decide whether a therapy is harmful not? For example, consider the recommendation to give up eating meat and saturated fat because it is increasing someone's risk for heart disease. There is no definitive way to determine, in advance, that it WILL cause heart disease. But statistical analysis has shown that it might, at least for some people. Is relying upon statistical measures that may not apply to a particular individual an example of doing harm to that particular individual?
Finally, who decides whether a treatment is harmful or not? Person may experience drug side effects in different ways. For example, one might feel that they are evidence that the medication is doing its job, and celebrate having the symptoms because they feel that the treatment is beneficial. Another might experience the side effects as harmful, more hurtful than the condition for which the medication was prescribed. Likewise in the case of lifestyle recommendations, while one person might deem that the clinician is helping them live a better life, and be grateful for what they consider to be beneficial advice, another could feel that their life will be ruined if they cannot eat the foods that bring them a sense of emotional satisfaction. For this second person, then, the prescription feels personally harmful. The reality is that on many occasions the determination of whether harm has been done, or not, is entirely subjective.
Tolle Causam & Vis Medicatrix Naturae
It was Hippocrates, a Greek physician who lived over 2000 years ago, who characterized biological organisms as active participants in processes of injury and illness. He believed that the symptoms that they produced in response to toxic influences were evidence that the body was attempting to restore balance after becoming disturbed. Their capacity to self-regulate was what distinguished them from non-living matter. From this, it followed that the physician's job was, first, to find the originating imbalance and, second, to support nature so that it can do its job as effectively as possible.
Tolle Totem & Docere
Tolle totem, treat the whole, and docere, to teach, are two other principles which naturopaths use to guide their practice. The first, tolle totem, refers to the process of looking at the whole person rather than just a part, such as a limb, like the arm or leg, or an organ, like the kidney or the lungs. In holism, the whole is presumed to be more than the sum of its individual parts. For the naturopath, this means that it will only be possible to accurately identify (1) the underly cause of an illness and (2) the best strategies to evoke the organism's capacity to self-regulate, if the person is evaluated as an integrated whole. Furthermore, since it is in the inherent nature of this unified organism to self-heal, the best approach to treatment is one which empowers the person to take responsibility for his or her own healing. The naturopathic concept of docere embodies this principle.
Wellness & Prevention
Given the understanding that biological systems are active in the healing process, it stands to reason that they are also active in the process of maintaining balance. That is to say, it is part of their inherent nature to sustain wellness -- the state of homeodynamic resilience in an ever-changing environment. One of the ways that naturopaths help individuals promote wellness, therein preventing disease, is by assessing an individual's risk factors and heriditary susceptibility to disease and teaching appropriate interventions to support the person's innate capacity to experience in an ongoing way physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.See Primary Prevention
On the art of healing
Be a lamp, a lifeboat, a ladder. Help someone's soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.
Mevlana Rumi (1207 - 1273)