A recent publication in the journal of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors; a meander through the evolution of my understanding of cultural sensitivity.
I came to both my career and my spiritual community as an adult. I was familiar with neither growing up, and when I encountered each I felt a deep resonance and a sense of home. Over the years, I've noted a number of similarities between my chosen profession and my chosen faith; they were brought to the forefront again this morning while listening to my wonderful minister Shawn Newton preach about what it means to be Unitarian-Universalist - not the least of which is the tendency of members of both communities to eat tofu and sprouted grains.
If you're not familiar with Unitarian-Universalism, here's a primer. If you're not totally sure what naturopathic medicine is all about, here's some info on that too. And now that you're an expert on both, I will share some reflections on the connections that I see.
Both naturopathic medicine and Unitarian-Universalism (UUism) are defined not by a set of rules, but by principles and values. This to me is the most important similarity, and what sets each apart so distinctly from other approaches to health care and other religions. Just as naturopathic medicine is not defined by the tools used (acupuncture? herbs? nutrition? homeopathy? ... depending on the naturopathic doctor you see, you will likely get a different approach to your concerns), UUism is not defined by doctrine. Members are not expected to believe in a particular god (or any god at all), nor to pray in a particular way, nor to engage in specific rituals or sacraments. Neither is guided by rigid structure, but by values and principles that act as filters through which I see the world and my patients, and make choices.
This makes for tremendous diversity within both communities. Shawn commented this morning that a group of UUs will tend to have incredibly diverse views on a topic, which, in my opinion, is what makes the community so rich and interesting. It is the same with naturopathic medicine. Many colleagues have expressed concern that the diversity in our profession is a weakness - it leads to lack of clarity within the public and among allied health professions around what it is we DO. However, I feel it is a deep asset. Diverse views and approaches allow for growth and thoughtful individualisation. In healthcare, it enables consideration of the whole person (a core principle of naturopathic medicine), and the evolution of our understanding of medicine; in religion, it allows for a free search for truth and meaning (a core principle of UUism). Both emphasize responsibility in this process. I consider myself largely agnostic when it comes to both my profession and my spirituality. It's impossible for me to say what will work medically for an individual - even if the best randomized, controlled trial shows an awesome efficacy, every recommendation in the clinic is a brand new n-of-1. Similarly, I would feel arrogant to assume I understand the mysteries of the universe - although I am familiar with the comfort of feeling part of something greater, and believe deeply that if there is a god, she is benevolent (an important component of the Universalist part of UUism).
Accredited naturopathic medical colleges provide education in a variety of interventions - nutrition, lifestyle counselling, botanical medicine, homeopathy, traditional Asian medicine, physical medicine and pharmacology. Although some might argue that we are Jills of all trades and masters of none, naturopathic doctors are uniquely skilled in integrating evidence-informed strategies from different healing models to meet the needs of their patients. Similarly, UUism values its rich religious pluralism, drawing from many sources of wisdom, including (but not limited to) Judeo-Christian teachings, Humanist philosophy, Pagan spirituality, and Buddhist principles. A variety of sources allows the individual to explore their own faith. Just as I could visit the offices of colleagues and witness unique meldings of healing approaches, UU services are a harmonious blend of meditation, prayer, music, and readings from a tremendous range of origins.
UUism holds dearly the "inherent worth and dignity of every person," and, "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations." This is reflected in naturopathic medicine through the importance of treating the indiviual. These spiritual and professional guideposts come into play in the clinic as I do my best to honour the unique experience of the patient in front of me, their preferences and their values (a critical aspect of evidence-informed practice). I strive to approach medicine as a collaboration with my patient, creating space for them to identify and express how I best can help them, and what is feasible for them. This also invokes the UU principle of honouring the democratic process. Naturopathic medicine emphasizes the importance of seeking and addressing the root cause of disease. In a similar way, UUism emphasizes a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning". Both models highlight the importance of keeping an open, compassionate mind, being curious, and going more deeply than what may initially meet the eye.
Naturopathic medicine shares many of its values with other healing professions - do no harm, prevent disease, provide education - although each may be uniquely enabled or limited in their capacity to fully enact them. In my opinion, the confidence in the "body's inherent wisdom to heal itself" - the vis medicatrix naturae - is what really defines naturopathic doctors. Many of us take that beyond the individual to the wider world; our oath speaks to preserving "the health of our planet for ourselves and future generations." We are a species that evolved as the rest of the earth evolved - alongside, and not superior to others. In order to be truly healthy, we need our environment to more closely reflect that which our genome expects - that with which it evolved. Naturopathic medicine emphasizes the importance of a healthy lifestyle; I spend much of my clinical time providing education around lifestyle factors that can both correct and prevent health concerns which often mirror principles of environmentalism. UUism holds dear "respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." I suppose a difference here is that in naturopathic medicine, the patient, the human, is the driving force, while in UUism, the web itself is the motivation. They certainly dovetail one another, and equally contribute to my personal efforts to walk gently on the Earth.
After the service this morning, I was pondering whether I already held certain values, which led to a resonance with both naturopathic medicine and UUism when I discovered them; or whether my engagement with each helped to shape my current values (I also came to naturopathic medicine first, which likely lay the foundation to my connection with the principles of UUism). Ultimately, it doesn't matter tremendously ... I came to each with a framework that made their values appealing, and my active engagement in both has allowed my personal philosophy to evolve in all facets of my life.
It's very common for me to be asked about both naturopathic medicine and UUism (although usually not in the same conversation) . As Shawn reflected this morning, while I can trip through an attempt at an explanation (which usually comes down to referencing principles), the best demonstration of both is truly the actions I take in the world, and the values I choose to manifest in my life and practice.
(As an aside, a number of years after I came to UUism, I stumbled across the "Belief-O-Matic" quiz ... in case I needed any confirmation of what I already knew, I was a 100% match with Unitarian-Universalism).
This was a thing in our household for a few years ... managed to avoid antibiotics and Tylenol for every one. For those of you with littles ... some tips on managing ear infections (second page here). Written with the marvelous Laura McLeod!