To Naturopath or Not to Naturopath…That is the Question

My first visit to a naturopath was over a decade ago. It also happened to be my last visit to a naturopath. Until now, at least. 

At that time I had a painful ear. I also had a close friend that had recently become engaged to a lovely woman who happened to be a naturopath. So, despite my basic cynicism about naturopathy, born from a lifetime seeing the world through the eyes of the scientific method, off I went. 

The visit started with an initial pep-talk about how natural remedies are so much better for our bodies, how they work to both treat the problem without blasting our systems with big-pharma boogieman poisons, and (as a gift with purchase I guess) how they really help free up our energy flow and chakra maintenance. Despite my eyes widening to the point I was concerned my eyeballs might in fact fall out, I stayed the course and had a lovely, spirited discussion about my ear, my pain, and my system’s overall balance. 

I was sold! I loved her, loved the connection we had. I was amazed by the contrast between her naturopathic approach and my doctor’s stand-offish minimalist approach. An approach that often had me wondering if he even knew my name despite the fact that I’d been under his care for over twenty years. I skipped out of her office with a light heart and a prescription for a good ear-candling session. 

Sadly, my relationship with my naturopath ended after that first visit. Positive thinking aside, I had to accept that sticking a lit candle in my ear and expecting it to fix what I already knew was a plain old ear infection was a fool’s errand. Sigh.

With a righteous ‘told you so’, my science-nerd self led me to my doctor’s office. Where I got a prescription for an antibiotic and a stern lecture from my doctor about alternative therapies and didn’t I know better….. 

That is where I have stayed for the past 25-ish years. Raising an eyebrow and holding my tongue when my friends raved on about their naturopaths despite the smarmy comments in my head about how naturopaths are a big waste of time and money. 

Then along came menopausal transition symptoms. The hot flashes. The irritability. The massive awful embarrassing bleeding that would happen with little notice at the worst possible times. The anxiety. The sudden expertise on panty-liner products to combat what felt like an everyday concern about smelling like urine courtesy of laughing too hard. 

First stop for help? My fresh, new, recently-graduated doctor. I felt confident that she would be up to date on all the latest perimenopause symptoms and how to help me. Alas, it was not to be. Proof, you ask? Here are some sound bites from my first three visits to her (that took place over 8 months): 

  • Wait for 6 months and see how this goes…
  • Let’s do a blood test, and then we’ll see…
  • Your blood work seems fine. You’re entering perimenopause. Your body is changing. You’ll adjust…

No surprise that I got enraged and decided to change my doctor. Followed soon after by the realisation that there are no doctors taking on new patients in my area. Followed by more rage. All combining to supercharge my raging hormones and leave me sobbing, feeling useless, feeling hopeless, then sobbing some more. And finally accepting that I will just endure. What is my choice? 

Enter naturopathy. 

I know that comparing my insides to other women’s outsides isn’t helpful. But I would hear my friends, looking all balanced and happy, raving on about the amazing advice their naturopath just gave them. How their naturopath prescribed them some sustainable, eco-friendly, natural remedy that stopped perimenopause symptoms in their tracks and changed their lives. How their naturopath really listened to them. Heard them. Supported them. And my envy, coupled with my despair, got me thinking that maybe I needed to re-evaluate my dismissive attitude to naturopaths. 

Normally, at this point, I’d ask around, get a referral, make an appointment, and hope for the best. However, I had some anti-naturopath feelings to get over. 

This time I’m living in a world of high-stakes desperation. Balancing “I-really-need-help-and-maybe-a-naturopath-is-the-answer” vs “ear candling-meant-longer-time-in- pain-but-I-deserved-it-because-I-should-have-known-better-and-I-had-to-shuffle-into-my-doctor-anyway-to-get-a-proper-prescription-so-don’t-waste-your-time”. 

After some dithering, I dove in. I did my homework. I read up on naturopathy. On what exactly is a naturopath. On what credentials and training are needed to be a naturopath. And I learned that the term “naturopath” can mean many different things. 

The big news is that you can visit a naturopath who is a highly specialised, educated, and regulated health-care provider able to write prescriptions if needed. 

The other big news is that you can visit a naturopath who has no training. No expertise. No qualifications. No oversight. Nothing. Maybe they have taken some courses (probably not from accredited schools) in areas that interest them. But maybe not. 

Because anyone – you, me, the bus driver – can call themselves a naturopath. And hang out a sign. And charge you for their advice. Yikes. 

I started out wanting to see a naturopath. But now I know that I want to see a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) or a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (NMD). One who is licensed to practice healthcare in my area. One who is regulated, so I have some confidence that they actually know how to do what they say they can do. And who understands that herbal medicine and naturopathic remedies can be the answer…but maybe they won’t be and if that’s the case I will need more and not only is that ok, it’s good – because the goal here is to help me manage my symptoms in a way that lets me live my life again. 

I don’t know what the outcome will be. But I can’t believe it will be worse that what I am currently receiving in terms of care for my menopausal transition symptoms – being ignored, belittled, gaslit, and scolded. For, you know, having the outrageous expectation that I should receive care and support during this challenging life stage. 

Naturopathy is an absolutely appropriate direction to take, especially if your other attempts to get help have ended in tears. But just remember – like everything else in life, buyer beware – make sure you are getting the quality healthcare you deserve!

Written By:

Jennifer Vander Zalm

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