Talk to any naturopathic doctor, and you may get a different explanation of what we do. For me, the naturopathic principles form the foundation of my approach to promoting good health (this is different for me than what I DO):
First, do no harm: All health care providers try not to hurt their patients. For me, this is a very deliberate consideration for each recommendation I make. I aim to use as gentle an intervention as I can to achieve your health goals. But harms can also take the form of unnecessary financial costs, excessive testing, and "pathologizing" - pinning a diagnosis that may not be helpful. I do my very best to avoid all of these. I also consider harms to others and to the environment; I reduce unnecessary waste, avoid using threatened plant species, and minimize my contribution to global warming and pollution in my practice.
Doctor as teacher:The most important tool in my bag of tricks is education. I have a bit of an advantage here in that teaching is my primary job, as a professor at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) where I nurture the next generation of doctors. However, I spend a lot of time teaching in my practice as well - illustrating basic pathways of how your body works, making the connections between your lifestyle and the symptoms you're experiencing, explaining why I'm suggesting a particular medicine. You have to understand my thoughts and recommendations in order to take on the responsibility to do what I suggest!
Treat the individual: I see patients in three different clinics - my mid-Toronto practice in a relatively well-off neighbourhood, the teaching clinic at CCNM where the rates are reduced and we have a large student demographic, and a street-youth drop-in program where many of my clients are living in shelters and struggling with significant obstacles to good health. Patients in all three spaces may present with an ear infection, headaches, poor mood, or a desire to lose weight ... and my approach will be very different for each one. Choice in food, financial resources, history of trauma, intimate support, comfort with an unconventional approach ... all of these factors affect how I can approach each situation, and affect your ability to be successful. Naturopathic medicine requires the building of relationships in order to understand what YOU want and need and are motivated to do. I'm a strong proponent of "the right medicine for the right person at the right time" - that depends on my understanding of your situation, what I know of effective medicine, but most importantly, what works for you.
Seek and treat the cause of disease: My goal is always to dig deep to help you discover what has created the situation in which you find yourself. Perhaps you're having a hard time sleeping ... we could recommend good sleep practices and a natural sleep aid (and perhaps we might), but when we dig deeper we discover that because you're tired all day you are in a cycle of drinking coffee to stay alert. We could have you stop the coffee (and perhaps we should), but you're tired ... we could suggest some herbs to boost your energy, but perhaps we discover that you have low iron, which would explain your exhaustion. But why is your iron low? Perhaps you don't have time to cook well ... there are a million reasons for that! Perhaps you have reduced your meat intake (good for you!) and don't know how to get iron from plant foods. Perhaps you have heavy periods, or perhaps you have a bleeding ulcer that needs to be found. Not to go down the rabbit hole of worst case scenarios, but my job is to be curious and non-judgmental ... to find out as much as I can in order to discover where it all began ... and suggest solutions to THAT (with some alleviation of symptoms along the way).
Teach the principles of prevention and health promotion: The most significant causes of death and disease right now are noncommunicable ... the biggies: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease (like asthma). These really - although they have some genetic components - are diseases of a poor lifestyle. Let's add to that list mental health concerns, infertility, allergies, ADHD, autism, autoimmune conditions, dementia, chronic pain ... almost invariably, these are conditions that can be prevented by improving the "pillars of health" - diet, sleep, movement, stress management, spending time outside, healthy relationships. Particularly when we start in childhood (because kids tend to maintain the habits that were imposed on them in childhood), establishing healthy behaviours are the number one way we can ward off all of these conditions. But preventing disease isn't enough. I believe that our role in this life is to live as fully and spectacularly as we can - to leave our mark on the world, to leave it better than we found it. To achieve our most full potential. And to enable others around us to do the same. This is only possible when we optimize those pillars, to give our bodies what they need to be at their best. I also consider "health" as a complex entity ... there are many different facets of health (physical, mental, spiritual, sexual, financial, social), and one person may be at different points along the disease:optimal spectrum of various facets at any given time. It's important to me to treat holistically, to gently prompt consideration of all facets in our work together, and to provide you with the support to be the best you can be. Work with the healing capacity of nature: We are part of nature. We are no greater than or lesser than any other species on this planet. Our bodies follow the same laws as all others. We evolved in - we are designed for - a very different world than the one in which we currently live. Our bodies don't know what to do with plastic and chemicals and manufactured food. Our ecosystem doesn't function well with billions of tons of carbon in it. Although not perfect, the logic of nature is wiser than anything a human brain could conjure ... and when we try to outsmart it, it usually creates a way to assert itself one way or another. When I understand what the body is trying to accomplish when it mounts a fever, or puts on weight, or triggers diarrhea, it helps me think about how best to support it's efforts without exhausting the individual. I rarely want to suppress what the body is trying to do - there are times, and I'm well trained and equipped to recognize when. It doesn't mean I want anyone to suffer - if I can help the body productively do what it needs to do to be healthy, while minimizing pain, I have done my job. This principle also drives me to walk gently on the Earth and to encourage others to do the same. We simply cannot be healthy in an unhealthy world.