BS asks: “Is Naturopathy New Age?”
Yes. Naturopathy is a whole medical system that is based upon a philosophy that emphasizes the healing power of nature and incorporates the New Age belief in a “vital force” or “energy” that supposedly pervades the universe.
Here is how one practitioner describes this “vital force”: “Naturopathic Medicine is based on the philosophy of Vitalism: that all living beings possess an intelligent, living energy which gives us an innate ability to heal. Naturopathic Medicine, based in European traditions, calls this energy the Vital Force. Oriental Medicine traditions call it the Qi; Ayurvedic Medicine from India refers to it as Prana. Every traditional culture from around the world has their own term for this phenomenon, and more than 95 different names for the Vital Force have been recorded.”
For those who are unfamiliar with naturopathy in general, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which is part of the National Institutes for Health, describes it as being based on the central belief that nature has its own healing power (a principle practitioners call vis medicatrix naturae). Practitioners believe their role is to support this natural healing power and prefer to use treatment approaches they consider to be the most natural and least invasive.
Some of these methods include nutrition counseling (such as eating more whole and unprocessed foods), the use of vitamins and other supplements, herbal medicines, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, exercise therapy, massage, fasting, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and minor surgery.
Considered a holistic approach, naturopathic doctors seek to treat the whole person, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, genetic, environmental and social – which is where many New Age/occultic treatments can be introduced to the patient.
Dr. Benedict Lust (1872-1945)is considered to be the founder of naturopathy in the U.S. In his native Germany, he had been exposed to a wide range of natural healing arts, including that of a Catholic priest named Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) who opened up a “water cure” clinic after becoming convinced that he and a fellow student had cured themselves of tuberculosis by bathing in the Danube River. Dr. Lust brought Fr. Kneipp’s hydrotherapy techniques with him to America in 1892. Ten years later, he founded the American School of Naturopathy. Over the course of the next 20 years, naturopathic medicine grew into a holistic system that embraced a variety of alternative healing systems such as homeopathic and herbal methods.
Currently in the United States, naturopathy has three general categories of practitioners: naturopathic physicians, traditional naturopaths, and other health care providers who also offer naturopathic services. The titles used by practitioners may vary (for example, both naturopathic physicians and traditional naturopaths sometimes refer to themselves as “naturopathic doctors” or by the abbreviation N.D. or N.M.D.) even though there is a big difference between these two types of practitioners as far as their academic qualifications and the types of treatment they offer.
As the NCCAM explains, traditional naturopaths, also known simply as “naturopaths,” emphasize naturopathic approaches to a healthy lifestyle, strengthening and cleansing the body, and noninvasive treatments. They do not use prescription drugs, injections, x-rays, or surgery.
Several schools offer training for traditional naturopaths, often through distance learning (correspondence or Internet courses). Admission requirements for schools can range from none, to a high school diploma, to specific degrees and coursework. Programs vary in length and content and are not accredited by organizations recognized for accreditation purposes by the U.S. Department of Education. Traditional naturopaths are not subject to licensing.
Naturopathic physicians have much more education and are generally required to complete a four-year, graduate-level program at one of the North American naturopathic medical schools accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. Admission to a naturopathic medical school generally requires a bachelor’s degree and standard premed courses. Graduates receive the degree of N.D. (Naturopathic Doctor) or N.M.D. (Naturopathic Medical Doctor), depending on where the degree is issued.
As of 2010, 15 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands) have licensing requirements for naturopathic physicians. In these jurisdictions, naturopathic physicians must graduate from a 4-year naturopathic medical college and pass an examination to receive a license. Their scope of practice is defined by law in the state in which they practice (for example, depending on the state, naturopathic physicians may or may not be allowed to prescribe drugs, perform minor surgery, practice acupuncture and/or assist in childbirth).
Other health care providers (such as doctors of medicine, doctors of osteopathy, doctors of chiropractic, dentists, and nurses) may sometimes offer naturopathic treatments.
Even though naturopathic practitioners use only “natural” treatments, this does not mean they are without risk, which is why the NCCAM cautions people to never completely substitute naturopathy for conventional care because many practitioners use approaches that are ” not consistent with conventional medicine”, and their safety may not be supported by scientific evidence. It is also highly possible that even the most pure and natural herbs can cause side effects of their own as well as interact with prescription or over-the-counter medicines.
Perhaps one of the best examples of what can go wrong in naturopathy involves the case of an unlicensed naturopath named Brian O’Connell from Colorado who was sentenced in 2006 to 13 years in prison for the wrongful death of 19 year-old Sean Flanagan.
Sean was terminally ill with Metastatic Ewings Sarcoma and had exhausted all medical cures when his parents brought him to O’Connell’s clinic for treatment in 2003. The family paid O’Connell $7,400 for “photoluminescence” treatments in which blood is removed from the patient, exposed to ultraviolet light, then returned to the body along with a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide. According to the complaint filed by Sean’s parents, even though the boy developed a serious blood infection as a result of O’Connell’s bizarre and unsterile procedure, treatments continued until he died nearly 10 days later.
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time O’Connell would be called into court for his “photoluminescence” procedure. On March 30, 2004, his Colorado clinic was raided by police after doctors at a nearby hospital reported having to treat several of O’Connell’s patients. One was a 17 year-old girl named Catherine “Cat” Bresina who suffered a cardiac arrest after a photoluminescence treatment. Two days earlier, a colon-cancer patient died in the hospital hours after O’Connell treated him.
Another problem with O’Connell – and one that affects many other naturopaths – is his dubious accreditation, which apparently came from an unaccredited “distance learning institution” known as the Herbal Healer Academy which was run by a woman who was sued in 2002 by the Arkansas Attorney General for offering two-week courses that qualified people to practice naturopathic medicine.
These bogus “schools” plague the field of complementary and alternative medicine by pumping out hundreds of perhaps well-meaning but completely unqualified people to practice medicine of any kind, either natural or conventional.
But there can be no doubt that the field of naturopathy is growing in the U.S. According to NCCAM statistics, in the year 2000, an estimated 1,500 naturopathic physicians were practicing in the United States; that estimate nearly doubled by 2006. In 2001, an estimated 3,600 traditional naturopaths were practicing in the United States.