The topic of naturopathic medicine is a complicated one.
Although naturopathic medicine requires the same education level as a medical doctor plus additional courses on nutrition and herbal/physical medicines, naturopathic physicians aren’t formally licensed in all U.S. states, including Texas.
Amy Tyler is a South Central Austin-based naturopathic physician. She received her B.A. in chemical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and shortly thereafter, found herself more invested in her own health and the health of others. Tyler then stumbled upon the benefits of naturopathic medicine.
“I told my mother, who was struggling with asthma, allergies and eczema, that she lived in a state that licenses naturopathic physicians and should consider (naturopathy) as an option,” Tyler says. “And she did. She had success in reversing all of those conditions!”
Her mother’s recovery inspired Tyler to pursue naturopathic medicine further. Tyler then obtained her naturopathic doctorate degree at the Bastyr University of Seattle.
Since Texas is not among the U.S. states that recognize naturopathic medicine as an official practice, physicians like Tyler must follow their state restrictions and regulations. Thus, naturopathic physicians in Texas cannot work as primary care doctors but rather as health and wellness consultants.
According to Tyler, qualification for a state to provide licensing comes down to the numbers. Naturopathy is a small profession, and there must be a substantive and organized community of naturopathic physicians in a given place to advocate for a bill and secure licensure in that state.
But what exactly is naturopathic medicine, and how does it differ from things like natural medicine or homeopathic medicine?
In the most basic sense, naturopathic medicine is the introduction of natural remedies to support the body as it heals itself. Essentially, in licensed states, a naturopathic physician can act as your primary care provider while homeopaths cannot; they are not trained to do so. Naturopathic physicians often use natural and homeopathic medicine as tools but aren’t nearly the same as homeopaths.
At a traditional doctor, patients may receive news that nothing is wrong but still feel unwell; this is where naturopathy can step in.
“Sometimes people need some more fine-tuning and adjusting, more subtle help,” Tyler says.
There are six principles that form the foundation for the practice of naturopathic medicine by licensed naturopathic physicians. The first of these is to “identify and treat the cause.” Tyler says this means addressing causes directly instead of simply putting bandages on symptoms.
“For example, Lyme disease comes with lots of symptoms,” Tyler says. “It would be easy for a doctor to look at those symptoms and throw things at you to fix them, but unless someone discovers the cause — that it’s an infection — it would be hard to help people with Lyme.”
The second of these governing principles is the idea that naturopathic physicians are both doctors and teachers. During an initial visit with a client or patient, physicians usually spend an hour or two just having a conversation. The goal of the initial visit is to understand the root issues and the specifics of how that person’s body works. Throughout the whole process, the physician invites clients into that process and provides reasons behind their recommendations.
“We’re trying to help them become their own advocate,” Tyler explains. “They’ll know the right questions to ask in a given situation and be better informed and comfortable navigating through the system.”
This idea of understanding someone is amplified in the third principle, which is to “treat the whole person.” Naturopathic physicians concern themselves with the physical body as well as mental and emotional health; they see and understand the big picture. Tyler says the pandemic demonstrated this connection between the body and mind through increased stress and mental health issues, and physicians must acknowledge this link.
The fourth principle is prevention, as Tyler states that with high numbers of obesity and diabetes in Texas, there is a huge need for preventative care. Naturopathic physicians are adamant about preventative medicines and work hard to understand a client’s medical history, family history and potential risks.
The fifth principle is one all members of the medical field must adhere to — the “do no harm” rule.
Lastly, the final principle is all-encompassing; the “healing power of nature” is the principle by which physicians recognize there is a self-healing process. The job of a naturopathic physician is to support this process and remove any obstacles standing in the way of the healing.
Tyler says all six principles set naturopathic physicians apart from other medical doctors.
Currently, Tyler serves as vice president of the Texas Association of Naturopathic Doctors, which is the backbone for support and promotion of accredited naturopathic physicians in Texas. They aim to gain licensure to fully practice and utilize the skills they have.