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What's the Difference Between a Naturopath and a Naturopathic Doctor?

A group of diverse doctors

So you're ready to try a new approach to health. Maybe you're tired of taking medication non-stop with no real improvement to your symptoms. Perhaps, your illness has been getting worse and conventional approaches aren't doing anything for your health.

Maybe you're tired of the 5 minute doctor's visit that ends with yet another prescription and no real answers. Or maybe you're curious about natural health and want to see how a whole person centered naturopathic approach can help you.

Either way, you're ready to see a naturopathic doctor!

Congratulations! You sit down on your computer or open up your internet browser on your mobile phone and start to search "naturopath near me" but then something strange happens.

Even before you can execute your search, you're inundated with a plethora of options: functional medicine doctors, integrative medical doctors, alternative practitioners, homeopaths, herbalists, naturopathic physicians, and naturopaths.

You can almost feel you head spin when you look at all the options available and it feels so overwhelming that you close your phone and look at social media instead.

If this story sounds familiar, I feel for you. I understand that there's a lot of activity surrounding the natural healthcare space and it can be quite confusing for a newcomer to try to find their way to the practitioner that is right for them.

So while this post won't go into detail about the differences between all of the practitioners (that's a pos for another time), I will address what the difference is between a naturopath and a naturopathic physician or doctor.

What's a Naturopath?

An array of assorted crystal on top of a drawn flower pattern

I can't tell you the amount of times that I have been called a naturopath and had to politely but firmly correct the individual who addressed me. Some naturopathic doctors don't mind being called naturopaths, but I'm not one of them.

Why is that?

This is because there is a general confusion among the public about what a naturopath does.

In states and countries that don't recognize or offer licenses to naturopathic doctors, anyone can call themselves a naturopath.

This means that individuals who have no formal training, medical knowledge, understanding of the human body, or pathology (the way disease occurs in the human body) can call themselves a naturopath and see patients or clients.

This leads to a huge misunderstanding about what a traditional naturopath does as opposed to what a naturopathic physicians or doctor does.

For example, a traditional naturopath may:

  • Use intuition or mystical practices to find the cause of an illness

  • May try to treat an illness based on mystical knowledge

  • May recommend herbs or supplements without explaining the reasoning for such recommendations

  • Engage with or use "spirit guides" to diagnose an illness

  • Diagnose illnesses that aren't recognized by mainstream medicine

These are just some examples of what a traditional naturopath with no formal training may do when you meet them for an appointment. Now I do want to be fair and say that there are traditional naturopaths who are extremely knowledgeable and use sound science and medical approaches as the work with their chosen populations.

So what am I getting at here?

In places where naturopathic doctors aren't regulated, anyone can call themselves a naturopath and make a quick buck off of any unsuspecting individual who is actually looking for help.

Sadly, this is quite a common occurrence.

Many people are so sick and so tired of the conventional medical model that they will pay anyone who says that they can. help with more natural health means.

But is a naturopath isn't a naturopathic doctor, then what's the difference?

What is a Naturopathic Physician?

a naturopathic doctor crushing herbs in a crucible

A Naturopathic Physician is an individual who got an undergraduate degree in biological sciences or a pre-med degree and then went on to complete 4 years of in-person naturopathic school, sat for 2 licensing exams, received a state recognized license to practice naturopathic medicine, and maintains his or her license by completing required continuing medical education credits (CMEs).

When you see a Naturopathic Doctor, you will have an experience unlike any you've had before.

For example, a Naturopathic Doctor will:

  • Get a full medical intake including a history of current and past illnesses, family history of illness, and pertinent or related medical conditions.

  • Order labs to find out the extent of your illness and what you may be lacking or deficient in

  • Look into lifestyle factors like where you live, what you're eating, and how stressed you are to help get to the root cause of disease

  • Create a personalized treatment plan based on your unique symptoms, constitution, and even genetics

  • Utilize a full toolbox that includes herbs, vitamins, minerals, supplements, homeopathy, and even pharmaceuticals (depending on where you live) based on what you need and what you're willing to take.

Basically a Naturopathic Doctor is a licensed trained healthcare provider that utilizes a more natural health based approach to healing as opposed to the conventional model of drugs and surgery.

So why wouldn't a Naturopathic Doctor like to be called a Naturopath?

Because anyone can call themselves a Naturopath whether they are trained or not. This means that if there is no distinction between a naturopath and a naturopathic doctor, then an untrained naturopath can hurt someone and then the whole naturopathic medical profession be laid with the blame.

Whether we like it or not, there is still a lot of ignorance in the general public about the effectiveness of naturopathic medicine and the media and conventional medicine aren't much more informed themselves.

This means that, at this time, the unintentional harmful actions of an untrained naturopath can be detrimental to access to naturopathic medicine to everyone.

As a trained and licensed naturopathic doctor, I strongly believe that you have the right to decide who you will work with to improve your health, if you even choose anyone at all, without any judgement.

But I also believe that it is the right of the public to have ultimate transparency in the qualifications and training of who they choose as their healthcare provider.

Making a clear distinction between a traditional naturopath and a trained and licensed naturopathic physician is one way to do that.

The Real Difference Between a Naturopath and a Naturopathic Doctor

A naturopath may not have formal training or may have completed their training via an online program. He or she may also have received a certificate that is only recognized by the institution rewarding it.

A naturopathic doctor or physician must have completed an undergraduate degree and then a 4 year in person degree at an accredited naturopathic medical school. He or she must also pass two licensing exams to qualify for a license and then maintain their license with CMEs.

Are you ready to visit a naturopathic doctor? Take a look at how naturopathic medicine can change your life or take a look at how a naturopathic approach can be cheaper than a conventional medical approach.

Dr. Candace Mathers, naturopathic doctor, Chicago suburbs in a watermelon dress holding a slice of watermelon
I'm Dr. Candace Mathers, a naturopathic doctor who wants to help you get healthy s you can go out and be your best self. I'm a Christian, mom, and lover of family friendly adventures.

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