What is a Naturopathic Doctor?
I get asked that question a lot.
When you first meet someone what is the first question they ask you? “What do you do?” When I was initially starting out I used to simply respond, “I’m a naturopathic doctor.” The problem with that is that many people don’t know much about naturopathy. I left them hanging, and lost a perfectly good opportunity to educate and express my passion for what it is I do.
Needless to say, I’ve fine-tuned my response since, but before I tell you exactly what that is we need to define another term – health.
What is health?
When I ask patients that question they often give me responses like, “When I feel good.” “The fact that I don’t have cancer or X disease.” “I’m healthier than my mother or father.” They put health in relation to something or someone – a comparison of sorts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” WHO published that statement back in 1948 and really there hasn’t been much change since then.
If we look at health holistically I would argue that we must consider health as a dynamic force in our daily lives that is influenced by our circumstances, beliefs, culture and social, economic and physical environments. That definition is much more encompassing.
On the other hand, if we simplify and get to its root, I believe the most eloquent definition of health is a state of homeostasis, where homeostasis is a state of balance on all levels.
So what is health? What is disease? Perhaps you aren’t in agreement with the definitions above and that is okay. There is no right or wrong definition. The main point is that these are important concepts for patients and doctors alike to consider when embarking on a journey together to create a win-win situation for everyone.
An even more important question may be …
How can we create health?
And that’s where I, as a Naturopathic Doctor, come in.
You see, I help patients try to understand that my role is not to treat symptoms, but rather identify them and then help the patient try to understand why they are happening.
When I meet with a patient for the first time I show them a picture of a room lit only by an open window that allows the sunlight to shine through.
I ask, “If this window were shut and the room became completely dark, how would you light up this room again?” I get responses like “I would open another window,” “I would break open the window,” “I would light a candle.”
The one commonality with all the answers I’ve gotten is that they all offer a way to bring light into the room.
Not one person has every told me to take the dark out.
And I tell my patient that is it – that is analogous to what I do as a naturopathic doctor. But, instead of light, I add health.
I don’t have the ability as a doctor to remove disease. I can’t take away disease.
I can only add health.
Disease is the body’s natural, innate response to an imbalance within. It is adaptive physiology – it’s how the body adapts to the imbalances. What I do is try to work with the body to correct those imbalances and I do that by adding health.
Now, does that match people’s general assumptions of what a doctor is? (I’m not sure how close it even comes to people’s general assumptions of what a naturopathic doctor is). Does that match our current societal paradigm of health care?
As a naturopathic doctor my area of expertise is preventative medicine.
What percentage of my patients come to me for prevention? Unfortunately, only a very small percent.
Our current model of health care follows an illness model. It is designed to treat sickness. The patient is given orders or medication in the hopes that they will react in such a way as to recover from (or more accurately suppress) their symptoms.
In a health model, one that is designed to treat health, the patient is provided enlightened knowledge so they may take responsibility to carry out their healthy lifestyle options.
Does our current health care system really treat health or is it in the business of treating sickness?
It may seem like I’ve gotten a little off track. “Then what is your definition of a naturopathic doctor?” you may be wondering.
“I educate people how to add health to their lives through actionable steps and the use of natural therapies.”
That (or a slight variation of that) statement is how I respond to the questions, “What is a naturopathic doctor?” or “What do you do?”
Until our health care system as a whole changes its emphasis on sickness care as opposed to health and healthful living, nothing in our health care system will change.
What will it take for us to stop trying to take out the dark? What will it take for us to realize that what we need to do is to bring in the light?
Perhaps it starts with our definition.
If you would like further information about what is a naturopathic doctor I invite you to check out the following sites:
I’d love to hear what you think. Please let me know by leaving a comment below.
And if you’d like a Health Partner who works with you to add health into your life then please give me a call at (306) 781-2222. I look forward to hearing from you.
– Dr. Esposito, ND