How To Choose The Right Naturopath: Definitions, Education, Training & Licensing

5 Mins Read

Along with our current global obsession for all things #wellness, there is also a growing change in how regular people are dealing with their health issues. Where twenty years ago a visit to your local GP or family doctor was the norm, today you are just as likely to take a more holistic/alternative approach. Perhaps you consult a TCM practitioner or maybe you have a standing appointment with a nutritionist to deal with your digestive issues.

Allopathic/Western medicine has been found lacking when it comes to issues like obesity, stress, heart disease, diabetes and other lifestyle-related conditions, all of which are on the rise across the planet. Many of us don’t want to imbibe antibiotic cocktails every time we are under the weather. We want a more balanced, nuanced prescription, that looks at our body as a whole and our symptoms as a starting point. Naturopaths are becoming more and more popular as an alternative to allopathic doctors.

If there’s one thing we have learned through starting and running Green Queen, it’s that when it comes to your own personal health, doing your homework and arming yourself right information is what really counts. But what is a naturopath and how are they regulated? Turns out, it depends on who you ask, which is far from an ideal answer.

Since many of us now regularly visit naturopaths, we decided to look into the matter further. We did our own independent research,  got some intel from Hong Kong-based Dr Benita Perch, licensed ND (we will explain what the means below) and senior partner at IMI and we reached out to Dr Iva Lloyd, licensed ND), president of the World Naturopathic Federation (WNF), a global membership federation for naturopathic associations and schools that looks to maintain more homogenous standards when it comes to the education and registration of naturopaths. Here’s everything we learned.

What Is Naturopathy?

The exact definition of naturopathy is contested across the internet. Every single place we checked, the definition was slightly different. The most concise definition we found for naturopathic medicine is from the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the US national professional society representing licensed naturopathic physicians (and a WEF member association):

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process.  The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods.

Naturopathic practice includes the following diagnostic and therapeutic modalities: clinical and laboratory diagnostic testing, nutritional medicine, botanical medicine, naturopathic physical medicine (including naturopathic manipulative therapy), public health measures, hygiene, counseling, minor surgery, homeopathy, acupuncture, prescription medication, intravenous and injection therapy, and naturopathic obstetrics (natural childbirth).

How Is Naturopathy Regulated?

Whilst the WNF is currently working with world agencies (World Health Organisation, United Nations, UNESCO), national governments and supra-national agencies in order to promote naturopathic medicine and the naturopathic profession with greater consistency, there is no international regulatory body that regulates the naturopathic industry on a global and legal basis. Each country has its own regulation and in most cases that means no regulation. The countries that regulate naturopathy officially include: the US, Canada, South Africa and India. What this means is in these countries, a naturopathic doctor/physician is considered a medical doctor, like any other, with a specialty like any other type of medical doctor.

In the rest of the world, including the UK, Australia & New Zealand and Europe, naturopaths are not considered doctors or physicians. However, these countries do have naturopath practitioner standards. In each of them, you can consult with a members’ association that is vetted by the WNF, check here for the full list of members.

Naturopathy vs. Naturopathic Medicine

This may be the biggest misunderstanding in this whole conversation. There is a significant difference between a naturopath, also known as Traditional Naturopathic Practitioner (TNP) or a Certified Traditional Naturopath (CTN),  and a naturopathic physician, and between naturopathy and naturopathic medicine. Like with allopathic medicine, a licensed Naturopathic Physician (ND) attends a four-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school (which means they have to have studied a pre-med Bachelor’s degree), which also includes many hours of clinical experience with patients. They are educated in all of the same basic sciences as an allopathic MD, but also studies holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness. In addition to a standard medical curriculum, the naturopathic physician also studies clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, and counseling. A naturopathic physician takes rigorous professional board exams so that he or she may be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician.

On the other hand, as the American Nutrition Association notes, “a traditional or classic naturopath does not practice medicine, diagnose or treat disease but rather concentrates on prevention and education. Their education consists of distance learning or online courses in herbology, iridology, energy techniques, mind-body medicine, manual therapies: massage, reflexology, & acupressure and homeopathy, to name a few. Their philosophy is similar to the naturopathic doctor but the scope of their practice is limited.”

Naturopathy Education & Licensing Requirements

A naturopath’s training can vary widely and depends on the country- and within that, which program- the individual was educated and certified in. Questions to consider when reviewing different naturopath education program, Is the program for a naturopath or for a naturopathic physician? Is it part-time or full-time? Is it via distance learning or by attendance to an actual university or college, with direct face to face patient contact? How many hours of training does it involve, and is there a clinical component with face-to-face patient interactions? Is the program for-profit or non-profit? Does the student receive a certificate or a license? Are board exams required? A good guide for what to look for is the WNF’s requirements. According to Dr Iva: “The WNF will only accept naturopathic educational institutions that offer a minimum of 1, 500 hours. Most of the naturopathic programs around the world are 3, 000 hours or longer. Recognized naturopathic programs in North America, Western Pacific and India are often over 4, 000 hours in length. We do not screen for the type of program – for-profit or not-for-profit, but based on our recent surveys most naturopathic educational programs are not-for-profit.”

Naturopaths In Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, naturopathic doctors are currently not licensed or regulated as a profession by the government. Due to the rising number of incoming practicing naturopaths and the growing demand for naturopathic care, naturopaths in the city have established an association to recognize its members: the Integrative Association of Naturopaths of Hong Kong (IANHK), a member association of he WNF whose mission is to push for the licensure, regulation, and safety of naturopathic medicine in Hong Kong using North American standards. According to Dr Perch, “The IANHK recognizes international programs that offer naturopathic degrees. Though all programs are not equivalent, we hold doctorate degrees from board approved universities in North America as our standard in setting our profession here in Hong Kong.”

Ed. note: Dr Benita Perch is a founding member of IANHK.


Lead image courtesy of Pexels. 

Love our content but keep missing the latest?

Sign up to receive Green Queen Weekly in your inbox, aka Asia’s Best Eco Wellness Newsletter