Homeopathy and naturopathic medicine are unique, yet complementary health care modalities practiced by many lay and medically trained practitioners throughout the U.S. Both modalities share the tradition of searching for the root cause of illness to treat patients at a fundamental level, and are considered to be "holistic." Although the path to a diagnosis and the treatments rendered may differ between the two, homeopaths and naturopaths share the belief that, if given the proper attention and care, our bodies are capable of healing themselves.
The terms "homeopath" and "naturopath" mean different things in different states. In states that license naturopathic doctors as primary care physicians, a practitioner of naturopathic medicine is known as a naturopathic physician. A naturopathic physician may practice homeopathy; homeopathy is one of several treatment modalities used by naturopathic physicians to address your health complaints. In these states, a person who has not obtained the degree of naturopathic doctor from an accredited four-year naturopathic medical school may practice homeopathy but is not permitted to call herself a "naturopathic doctor." In states that do not have a licensing process for naturopathic doctors, anybody—including lay homeopaths—can refer to themselves as a "naturopathic doctor."
According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, a person who attends an accredited, four-year naturopathic medical school undergoes a rigorous training schedule that incorporates the study of basic and clinical sciences, and a minimum number of hours of supervised patient care conducted in a clinical setting. The cumulative number of hours spent in training is 4,700, which is comparable to the number of hours medical doctors spend in medical school. Naturopathic medicine students receive a basic level of homeopathy instruction while in school, and many choose to pursue outside courses, such as the New England School of Homeopathy (NESH) courses offered by Drs. Paul Herscu and Amy Rothenberg. According to NESH, the following people are encouraged to enroll in their courses: physicians, nurses, therapists and lay people with an interest in the practice of classical homeopathy. While formal training options are available for aspiring homeopaths—such as the courses offered by NESH—such training is not required by any governing body as a prerequisite for using the title "homeopath" or for operating a business in which homeopathy is practiced.
The diagnostic methods used by homeopaths and those naturopaths who do not practice homeopathy are distinct. Homeopaths typically conduct an extensive intake which incorporates a detailed patient health history. According to Dr. David Nortman, a naturopathic and homeopathic doctor specializing in chronic illness, the questions homeopaths ask are open-ended and "encourage the patient to describe his or her exact experience of the illness or discomfort in progressively greater clarity, depth, and detail." After the initial visit, which can last for up to several hours, homeopaths examine patient responses to find a suitable remedy. Naturopathic doctors, on the other hand, reach a diagnosis by performing a thorough patient history and an appropriate physical examination. Based on the information obtained, tests such as labs or imaging may be ordered to rule in or rule out diagnoses and an individualized treatment plan created for you.
Homeopathic treatments are drastically different from the treatment rendered by naturopathic doctors not using homeopathy as a treatment modality. Homeopaths offer a "remedy," which is an ultra-dilute "micro" dose of a plant, mineral or other substance found in nature. After you've taken the remedy, the homeopath will schedule a follow-up visit to track your progress and make any necessary modifications to your remedy. Naturopathic doctors, on the other hand, treat you using any or all of the following modalities: botanical medicine, physical medicine, hydrotherapy, nutrition, exercise prescription and lifestyle counseling. Once your treatment plan has been given to you, your naturopathic doctor will schedule a follow-up visit to track your progress and make adjustments to the plan.
Scope of Practice
The scope of practice of homeopaths and naturopathic doctors differs considerably, depending on the state. In states that license naturopathic doctors as primary care providers, naturopaths have a larger scope of practice than their naturopathic colleagues in unlicensed states. In fact, according to the AANP, in some states, licensed naturopaths have equal prescription rights with medical doctors, can perform minor surgery and injection therapies and deliver babies, and must fulfill state-mandated continuing education requirements annually. Lay homeopaths in all states and naturopathic doctors practicing homeopathy in unlicensed states do not enjoy these privileges and obligations, with the exception of Arizona, Connecticut and Nevada, which, according to the American Medical College of Homeopathy, are the only states in the country that license homeopathic medical doctors.
Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician, health writer and the co-owner of a website devoted to natural footgear. He writes about health, fitness, diet and lifestyle. Hughes earned his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.