When I am out and about socialising, I am often asked by people as to what is the difference between me (ie. Naturopath) and a doctor (ie. General practitioner (GP)).My answer will often include the following statements. We are both university educated and we both care for patients. If we look at this question on a practical level you will generally find your GP can practice some forms of surgery and your naturopath can not. Your doctor is bound to diagnose a medical condition or disease or in other words label the problem. A naturopath may do this also but is more inclined to search for causes of medical problems. For example, a patient may present with a form of arthritis (diagnosis/label) in a joint. It is perfectly valid for your GP to treat the problem symptomatically whereas a naturopath may look at physiology in another part of the body that may be linked, such as poor digestive function that can ultimately cause an inflammatory reaction in many different parts of the body including joints. Also your GP will normally prescribe synthetic drugs and your naturopath will normally prescribe naturally derived or non-synthetic drugs (although a large number of supplements and herbal medicines are now pharmaceutically enhanced for stronger dosage).

The real underlying difference however lies with philosophy of treatment. Naturopaths adhere to a belief in the concept of vitalism. At its core vitalism or life force is the intrinsic ability of the body to bring itself into a dynamic balance of mind, body and spirit for optimal health. Generally speaking, a non-wholistic GP supports a reductionist approach to treatments where reverence to mind, body, spirit connections are overlooked. As a naturopath/medical herbalist, I do not oppose the paradigms of most modern medicine for example, investigations, surgery and evidence based drugs save lives and mostly improve health. However, I am averse to the ‘spin’ associated with some information regarding some well-selling drugs disseminated from pharmaceutical companies.

So you may be thinking now, what does medical herbalism have to do with vitalism. The relevance lies within the way herbal medicines are used for treatments. No two patients with the same condition or illness (diagnosis or label) are mandatorily prescribed the same herbal medicine. The needs of a given situation determine intensity and type of treatment, for example, decisions to tone and restore mind and body may be initially more important in cases of deficiency of vitalism before elimination of pathogens.

Just as your doctor (general practitioner) plays an invaluable role in your health, so too can a naturopath. Due to orthodox medicine’s support and funding from government, naturopathic medicine (which receives no support) is deemed as complementary medicine. As a naturopath, I think a little differently, because I believe that on many occasions I have deemed my patient’s GP’s work as being complementary to my own. I will not speak for other naturopaths so please treat this as my opinion only.
In summation and simply stated, a patient’s vitalism is essentially adaptation in cell self-organisation towards health and naturopathic medicine aims to aid adaptive processes of self-repair. It is the degree of vital force and perceived cause of illness of a naturopath’s patients that drives the method of treatment.