You've probably heard of the miracles naturopathic medicine can perform, but should you believe the hype? According to a 2006 Angus Reid poll, more than half of Canadians surveyed do and reported using at least one alternative therapy in the previous year. And the current demand is reflected in the number of practitioners across the country: About 1,550 licensed naturopathic doctors practice in Canada.
What is naturopathic medicine?
"The philosophy behind naturopathic medicine is to treat the whole person," says Dr. Jaty Tam, a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor. "To treat the root cause – and not just Band-Aid symptoms – you need to treat the body as a whole instead of individual parts."
Tam says naturopaths use many different "tools" to treat their patients. Nutrition and lifestyle counselling, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, botanical medicine, chiropractic manipulations and massage are all methods naturopaths employ to solve the underlying cause of the problem, rather than treat the symptoms.
And longer appointment times allow patients to be informed about their health, says Dr. Samantha Frey, a naturopath in Banff, Alb. With the initial visit lasting 60 to 90 minutes, she says areas discussed include family history, personal health history, current health issues and future goals.
Digestion, hormonal problems, stress, exercise, diet and sleep issues are also on the docket.
Dr. Anne Doig, president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), says it's important to consider the varying skills, qualifications and training required of naturopaths across the country.
"There are some provinces where there is a statutory regulation of naturopathy. This allows patients to confirm that that person is registered or a practitioner of that discipline and has a license to practice," she says. "In provinces where that doesn't exist, one has less certainty about the qualifications – and that is a big caveat for people."
In Canada, naturopathic regulations exist in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia. Alberta is not yet regulated but is currently in a transitional phase of self-regulating as an association, says Frey. All other provinces are actively pursuing regulation.
Tam says prospective patients need to ask where a naturopath went to school and where they’ve been licensed. Something to consider: Naturopaths practicing in a unlicensed province may be licensed in another province that has regulations in place.
Page 1 of 2 - find out the cost of seeing a naturopathic doctor on page 2.
Cost vs. cure
According to the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, a patient can expect to pay between $35 and $180 per visit, depending on the length of time they spend with the naturopath.
Bo Siu, a Toronto-based physiotherapist takes issue with the cost.
"I have never chosen to do naturopathy because if you look at the assessments and rates, they're a bit absurd. And you don't know if that person is really skilful in what they're doing," explains Siu. "I've been to one and I didn't feel he was great so I didn't pay for the treatments or the ongoing treatments."
Conversely, Susie Wickstead from North Vancouver, B.C. – who visits her naturopath every three to four weeks, at $72 a visit – says she hates to think how much money she has spent on naturopathy over the years but believes the benefits are worth the cost.
After visiting naturopaths for the past 15 years, Ali Garrison hopes that our current health-care system can learn to use different naturopathic approaches. While she believes that the system we have in place is extremely valuable – naturopaths can't help you if you need surgery, for example – there are many different situations where people can use naturopathic medicine to better their lives.
"A naturopathic doctor is good to have alongside your GP because they can look at the whole picture," advises Garrison.
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