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Case Study Issue 121: The Case for Traditional Naturopathy

by Stewart Mitchell(more info)

listed in case studies, originally published in issue 121 - March 2006

Traditional Naturopathy is a philosophy that provides a healthcare approach which is more than just an alternative medical system. It encompasses a view of life, a purpose in human health and suffering, and a model for living.

It strongly affirms the benevolence of life and advocates simple lifestyle measures to meet the reality of health problems. It is rational, yet it takes into account individual idiosyncrasies. Naturopathy is also original and truly therapeutic in that its guiding principles for well being – nutrition, movement, rest and understanding – are identical to its recommendations for ill-health, the difference only being in emphasis.[2]

For some of us Naturopathy is the first port of call on a journey towards a healthier lifestyle. For others it is a last resort – after medical tests and diagnosis, probably some disappointment from conventional treatment, and quite possibly a panoply of complementary therapies. The initial problem, having been converted from a 'condition' to an illness, perhaps translated into a 'miasm' or 'blocked energy', is still a problem.

If someone in the latter position is fortunate enough to consult a Traditional Naturopath, there is an opportunity for a subtle change of approach – that theirs is a health problem not just to be cured but solved.


Preferring to look at disorder within the context of everyday existence, the Naturopath is concerned with an individual's personal as much as medical history. This is because many symptoms, particularly those of a more mysterious character, are apt to take some time to reach consciousness. Other symptoms may be connected to traumatic events of the past that have been somatically buried in our attempt to reassemble daily life.

Though detailed and wide-ranging, the Naturopathic consultation is not an examination by an active professional on a passive client. It is an experience of mutual focus – the practitioner 'sees' the client, because the client has made an appointment to 'see' the practitioner. It is a form of witnessing where the sense of disorder is validated and with support, a perspective is the goal.

Symptoms as Clues to Health not to be confused with Disease

In reaching an understanding of disorder, it is important to make a distinction between the terms sign and symptom. Signs are objective, quantifiable and comparable, and are the main contributors to the clinical and statistical picture that forms disease. Symptoms, in contrast, describe the feelings of being unwell and are unique.

Although sometimes frightening and usually disturbing, Naturopaths contend that symptoms are biological – expressions of the body's intelligence – and invite an equally intelligent response. To the traditional Naturopath, in respect of the vast majority of disorders, the conventional attitude of unreservedly eliminating symptoms is unscientific and ethically questionable. More importantly, it denies the client opportunity for insight.[3] Like fragments of disturbing dreams, symptoms can represent issues towards which our attention is being unavoidably drawn. Although it is understandable that our initial response might be of distress, careful reflection often suggests that a helpful clue is contained even within the most unpleasant or unwelcome symptom.

The Role of the Naturopath

Grounded in knowledge of vital functioning, the Traditional Naturopath offers a collaborative relationship in the interpretation of symptoms. The practitioner is a resource for understanding, education and guidance in practical matters, as well as communicating support in ways that reduces the client's doubts and apprehensions.

Case 1

The client is female, single, 37 years old and consults because of 'panic attacks' punctuating depressive mood. The client feels otherwise well, although over-eating. Her breathing is found to be shallow; the client has previously been advised to practise abdominal-type breathing in an effort to 'calm down'. She has consulted medical specialists and there is fear of taking medication.

(The choice of the expression 'attack' alerts the practitioner to the somatic paradox, as in the use of 'heart attack', 'bad back' etc., which has been associated with psychological denial.)[4]

The practitioner explains how panic and depressive mood has been observed to be on the surface of more understandable but suppressed emotion. The potential for unexpressed emotion to create disorder is entertained.

As a first step towards exploring emotion, the physiology of breathing is demonstrated, using the client's own body. Expansive movements are shown which gradually release the chest from front to back, help relax the neck, and the beneficial influence of oxygenation on mood is emphasized. The client is advised to exchange 'comfort' snacks for fresh food, especially those requiring biting and chewing. Psychological 'first aids' from Yoga are taught, to be used at stressful moments. Encouragement is given for detailed recording by the client of the physical sensations experienced during panic and lowest points in depression for subsequent discussion.

Result – after five further consultations the client was less depressed and more confident. Her improvement brought her towards an awareness of unresolved matters within her early family life that she now felt ready to confront, and subsequently a successful referral was made to a colleague for counselling.[5]

The Illness is the Cure

The evolutionary superiority conferred by a human life does not appear to guarantee, but possibly complicates, the fulfilment of our basic needs. Furthermore, misapprehension that fluctuations in well-being are unconnected to our behaviour and experiences, is fostered from an early age in Western societies.

Radically, Traditional Naturopathy invites us to include the upheaval, disorientation and pain of disorder as a necessary part of life. We are encouraged to accept that the demands we ourselves make upon our life, as well as those imposed by other factors will naturally require periods of biological reorganization and emotional adjust-ment. The central theme of Naturopathy is that ultimately, recovering from disorder will be connected to our reason for living.[6]


1. Scheper-Hughes N & Lock MN. The Anthropology of Affliction. Free Press, New York 1997.
2. Mitchell S A. Practical Guide to Naturopathy. Random House, London. 2001.
3. Glouberman D. Life Choices Life Changes. Thorsons, London. 1989.
4. Ornish D. Programme for Reversing Heart Disease. Ballantine Books, New York. 1996.
5. Nichols K. Psychological Care in Physical Illness. Croom Helm, Kent, UK. 1984.
6. Helman C Culture. Health and Illness. Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford. 1994.


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About Stewart Mitchell

Stewart Mitchell B.Phil, Cert. Health Ed., is a complementary health specialist and director of the School of Complementary Health in Exeter UK. He studied nature cure methods in Edinburgh, India and the USA. He holds research awards in complementary health from the University of Exeter and the University of Plymouth and is a member of the Society of Health Education. He is the author of numerous publications and books on healthy living including Under- standing the Healing Power of Nature (1998); Understanding the Healing Power of Touch (1998) and The Complete Illustrated Guide to Massage. (1997). He is conducting research into hydrotherapy for pregnancy.

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