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Naturopathic Medicine

by Anne Williamson(more info)

listed in naturopathy, originally published in issue 28 - May 1998

It appears today that every one is speaking about stress, anxieties and all sorts of diseases and illnesses ranging from recurrent fatigue to life threatening complaints.

There is feverish activity among professionals and lay people alike to look at "new" ways to tackle the growing malaise we experience at all level of society. Should we try Acupuncture, Homoeopathy, Shiatsu or Osteopathy, should we follow this diet rather than that one, try this new herbal remedy or that latest nutritional supplement?

The rich, the famous, the obscure and the desperate join in the universal search for the relief of pain, suffering and increase in general well being. Anne Williamson, Founder Director of the Green Lodge Naturopathic Centre, now 10 years old, looks at how Naturopathy – a hitherto relatively unknown approach to health and well being – can help address in a very comprehensive way many of our society's ills and corresponding lack of inner peace, anxieties and illnesses.


Defining Naturopathy

Few of us may have heard about Naturopathy and even fewer may be able to define clearly its aim, methods and philosophy. Hence it seems appropriate to start with two definitions of naturopathy as understood on either side of the Atlantic.

In the States, Naturopathic medicine adopts a slightly broader definition and states six principles.

The Healing Power of Nature or Vis Medicatrix Naturae is interpreted as the body's inherent ability to heal itself and the physician's role in supporting and enhancing this process.

Identify and treat the cause, Tolle Causam. Illnesses and diseases do not arise spontaneously; there is a chain of cause and effects, which needs to be elucidated, and treatments need to be addressed at these causes, not the symptoms that appear ultimately.

First do no harm Primum Nil Nocere. Illness is not an enemy about to destroy, but a purposeful process of the organism, seeking to reestablish its own internal equilibrium. As the physician can either help or hinder the natural healing ability of the body through his intervention, it is important not to suppress symptoms without removing underlying causes.

Treat the whole person, as the nature of health and disease is multi factorial, effective at the spiritual, mental, emotional, genetic, physiological levels among others. Hence the physician needs to tailor his approach to the individual and personalise both diagnosis and treatment.

The physician as Teacher – doctor is derived from docere meaning teacher. Beyond the realm of accurate diagnosis and treatment, the physician must work to allow a sensitive, from person to person relationship to develop with the individual, educating, encouraging, nurturing.

The doctor is a catalyst who empowers the individual but never takes over the healing process from the individual. This means a strong personal commitment from the doctors to developing themselves personally and spiritually in order to become a good teacher.

Prevention rather than cure. In ancient China, doctors were only paid as long as their benefactors remained healthy. It was considered a great professional disgrace to allow someone in one's care to become ill. It would be useful to redirect our thoughts towards education and better understanding of our functioning as human beings so that we may avoid repeating similar habits, which lead to disease.

The implications of this approach brings Naturopathy out of the realm of the strictly mechanical medical field. The use of Naturopathic medicine means an on-going growing process both for the individual that seeks help and also for the doctor, through a human bond established between them. Thus Naturopathic medicine does not only have an active role to play in correcting imbalances through the use of natural therapies, but it also focuses on bringing about an inner development. This inner development is triggered through the application of the therapies, which, eventually will allow patients to become actively more aware both of their bodies and their emotions.

It allows Naturopathic medicine to have such a positive influence on stress and promote rejuvenation. Let us first examine these implications, before turning to the therapeutic and diagnostic vade mecum of this approach, and finally looking at some case histories. It will then be time to perhaps redefine the concept we are exploring now.

Treatment in swimming pool

Naturopathic Philosophy

The core of the Naturopathic philosophy rests within the concept both of the inherent ability of the body to right itself, if left to its own devices or encouraged by a skilful and sensitive physician and the fact that we are all individuals with certain "habits". These habits create "obstacles" which disturb our normal, natural functioning. (The definition given by the two schools emphasise that it is the normal functioning of the body which is in question here, but we will come back to this point later.)

These habits though may have varying roots. Some may appear to be of a purely physical nature, such as poor diet, inadequate exercise or taking harmful substances. Others though are not so easily recognised. They may lie in the realm of our thoughts and be heavily influenced by our feelings and emotions.

For instance, if we feel very attached to some possession, be it of a material nature or another person, we tend to loose our clarity of judgment and develop anger, greed, fear, or frustration. We lose at the same time the broadness of thoughts and channel our energies – literally in paths, which restrict our freedom and our ability to interact with fellow human beings and our environment.

Similarly, if these propensities are not corrected, they will become part of our make up and create deep rooted features that are difficult to eradicate even with the best medicines, because we then lose the ability to recognise that we are really sick and we refuse to take advice or seek treatment. This may carry on until the disturbance becomes visible in the form of physical symptoms which remain over a long period of time. We call them chronic symptoms. In the course of this process, we also lose our natural abilities to right ourselves, as we put veils upon veils in front of our inner eyes, and, as with all habits, we end up believing that what we then see is the true nature of things. By this time, the road back to the original problem is obscured and it takes a skilful and sensitive doctor-teacher to lead us back to the right track.

A doctor who does not recognise the level of your problem will not be of great use to you, because he will not be able to apply a therapeutic tool in accordance with the nature of your problem. Hence the doctor or physician must constantly exert himself/ herself personally to develop not only in pure technical terms but also on a human level. For instance, they need to occupy themselves with seeking to understand the nature of their fellow human being's problem, often by developing a great empathy and compassion towards those they seek to help, without becoming personally entangled in their threads. Book knowledge is very important, and certainly one has to assume that the doctor will arrive at a correct diagnosis and choose an appropriate method of treatment. Yet without a sensitive and personal offering from your doctor, may it be in the form of encouragement, explanation, a helpful hint, much of the benefit of the treatment may be lost or simply not realised. Professionals often refer to this aspect of healing process under the Placebo effect.

So much, therefore, for the consequences of habits which are nothing more than a way to concentrate energy in a particular way, which can turn out to become positive or negative for ourselves. For example, the habit of observing your own train of thoughts, particularly at the start and the end of the day, concentrate your attention on what you really spend your time – even your life doing. It may help you to decide whether the particular activities you are engaged in most of the time unconsciously are truly the ones you want to carry on.

You then learn to recognise your motivation and become sensitive to the pathways which your thoughts, words and actions take on a daily basis. From there is only a small step to recognise subtle changes in your body which cause frictions, and thus stress. You are using a truly Naturopathic approach at this stage, because you, under the guidance of your doctor are learning to recognise the vital current at work both within yourself and your physical body.

The body's ability to heal itself

The two definitions I mentioned above of the inherent ability of the body to heal itself, I believe, that now, we can question the source of this ability and in particular, if this is truly only the body which possesses it. There is a school of thought which argues that all movements of the soul and the mind are purely the result of biochemical functions in the body and thus both can be predicted with a thorough research and understanding of those mechanisms. It would therefore appear that it is the body which truly possesses this inherent ability.

Yet it would not account for situations where the body itself is totally rendered incapable of reacting, be it through injury, extreme stress or other physical impairment. In these cases though, healing still can be triggered and takes places in realms well beyond the reach of the mere cells which compose our physical bodies.

Although this is not the place for discussion here, I feel it is important to draw attention to this, as an example of our lack of clarity in our thinking process, which can easily lead to conceptual mistakes. We may perhaps try and rephrase this fundamental by keeping the notion of ability to heal oneself, but applying it to the whole individual rather than just his physical body.

History of Naturopathy

How does a Naturopathic practitioner diagnose the level(s) at which the person he seeks to help experience difficulties and what are the tools which are at his disposal?

Historically, Naturopathic medicine as we know it today originated in Germany and was heavily reliant on Hydrotherapy, diet and natural regimens. When it arrived in the United States at the beginning of the century, it became a natural heir to the Vitalist School which also had a strong belief in a vital force permeating the body and responsible for both health and disease according to its purity or corruption.

Today Naturopathy in Germany is regulated by the State and practitioners are licensed to practice under a medical doctor. They employ a variety of diagnostic tools including Iris diagnosis and conventional diagnostic techniques such as the ones you may encounter in your own GP's surgery. You may also find less well known means such as radionics based techniques or applications derived from the latest scientific discoveries. The bulk of the treatment will be Herbal medicine, some Homoeopathy, a little manipulative technique, maybe some massage and some hydrotherapy together with dietary advice and supplementation.

American Naturopathy has a wider vade mecum to draw from. In the curriculum of Bastyr University for example, we can find such varied subjects as those usually found in all medical schools: anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, diagnosis and all clinical sciences as well as clinical nutrition, botanical and Homoeopathic medicine, physical medicine, Oriental medicine, Naturopathic obstetrics and even minor surgery. The course is four-year full time and leads to the qualification of Naturopathic Doctor. Over 11 states have now formally recognised ND and others are to follow suit.

In the UK, there are a few colleges, which have sometimes a more limited therapeutic scope but are keeping the idea of Naturopathy alive.

This is a rather rapid overview, but one must not forget that the concept has been around for centuries. Many well-established medical traditions across the globe embody the concept of Naturopathy in much greater respect than what is currently practised. One would name but a few as North American Medicine, Ayurveda or Tibetan Medicine.

The approach at the The Green Lodge Centre

In the Centre, we lay a great emphasis on the diagnosis, which is fairly comprehensive. We start with what we refer to as Lifestyle assessment, which includes information on the patient's dietary habits, and his routine both at work and at home. We enquire about any information, which concerns his environmental circumstances: for instance if his home is in a dangerous or polluted area, or he has suffered some events, which render him vulnerable to certain conditions.

Then, we proceed to a detailed medical history, which gives us a good picture of the trends that the patient, as a person, has tended to develop. We look both at physical happenings in his life, and also look for all mental characteristics, which will allow us to help understand those "habits" previously mentioned. This part is very similar to a full homoeopathic case taking and often prevent us from going off on a tangent when the patient comes reporting a symptom, which turns out to be only a minor manifestation of a larger set of problems.

The third part of a full Naturopathic assessment at the Lodge consists of an Iridology investigation. There, we start to piece together the information you have provided us with, with what your body is actually reporting in the structure of the iris and sclera. Often, it is interesting to note what the patient feels is important in his own health and well being, as it may not always be what we will consider to be the first things to take care of, the original cause of a problem. Being aware of the patient's concerns also helps us formulate ways and explain to the patient the nature of the mechanisms at work, as far as we understand them, and therefore ultimately shape and refine the treatment programme we may offer him.

I also use Iridology to understand the psychological make up in front of me, as years of experience and practice of Chinese medicine have drawn my attention to features in the Iris which highlight inner characteristics. In more conventional approach, the examination of the iris will often indicate deficiencies and malfunctions which I would not otherwise have suspected. It is rather a shame that Iridology has suffered such unhelpful press recently, as, provided it is used as part of a structured diagnostic routine it has often proved invaluable in understanding complex interactions and pathways to disease. Perhaps again here we were trying to sift the light of the moon with a colander and were surprised at being unsuccessful.

Together with the above a diagnosis often entails pulse diagnosis which we gain from our practice of Chinese and Tibetan Medicine, urine analysis which clarifies your basic constitution and other ordinary examinations such as face and tongue diagnosis.

On a more conventional side, we will use the tools which are derived from the practice of biomedicine and use our in-house medical practitioner to elucidate any tests which we feel you may need after the first part of the diagnosis. We will also use computer analysis of nutritional status if we feel that it is truly essential for you.

Then comes the putting together of the information we have collected. In more complex cases, we meet as a team with the practitioners of various disciplines working jointly to bring their experience to a particular situation, and the result is a proposal of a treatment programme which is carefully selected to address step by step the points which are, in our opinion, creating the problems.

A range of methods

There are many other therapeutic tools, which can be used, in a Naturopathic approach. There are few limitations as to the methods that we may utilise, as long as they fall within the category of the six principles mentioned a the beginning of the article.

Naturopathy can be as efficient as its proponents. Because I do not believe that any single therapy has the answer to all ills, nor that a single session will cure all sorrows, I think that we need to spend all the time necessary to truly understand the dimension of a person who comes and seeks help from us. Then after careful diagnosis, there is a need to match what therapies are best equipped to do to your requirements.

In the course of time, we have learned that therapies can have a synergetic effect when consciously used in a well constructed treatment programme with specific timing and progression leading to inner freedom and peace, free from pains and constraints. Naturopathic treatment applied in this way takes away the hit and miss approach that we often have to go through when we know we need help, but are truly unable to know where we should turn and which therapy we should use.

The General Council for Registered Naturopaths in the UK provides the following definition:

Naturopathic Medicine is a distinct system of healing – a philosophy, science, art and practice, which seeks to promote health by stimulating and supporting the body’s inherent power to regain harmony and balance....

... The Philosophy of Naturopathic medicine is based upon three principles:

The first principle is that the body possesses the power to heal itself through its internal vitality and intelligence. . .

The second principle is that disease is a manifestation of the vital force applying itself to the removal of obstructions to the normal functioning of organs and tissues. . . causes may be chemical, mechanical or psychological.

The third principle is that naturopathy is an holistic approach to health. Disease affects the whole person – body, mind and spirit, not simply an isolated organ or system. . .

The therapeutic vade mecum in use is drawn from a variety of angles. Root causes can be found on looking so to speak from downwards up, as:

Mechanical with tensions, strains, misalignments the result of poorly treated, long forgotten injuries resulting from accidents or trauma. These require the application of therapies with a strong orientation to treating mechanical problems. For instance, if you have just sustained a car accident and got a whiplash, we may use a variety of approaches such as gentle manipulation, hydrotherapy, massage, Acupuncture and Homoeopathy to both address the damage to the nerves and the shock of the accident.

Physiological there may be an imbalance in the body chemistry which leads to excess or deficiencies. These are often the result of eating patterns which are not compatible with your constitution and may need to be corrected using herbal medicine, dietary adjustments. Where energies have become stagnant, one might use Acupuncture and genetic correction may be handled with selective use of Homoeopathy.

Emotional/Spiritual As we saw above, the true root cause of our ills and upsets have a non physical origin. Understanding how we press ourselves into narrow channels helps to free us from stressful situations and allow free flow of the vital force to bathe all the cells in our bodies,leaving us feeling rejuvenated and ready for action. Other therapies such as Bach Flowers,higher potencies in homoeopathic prescribing, and hydrotherapy such as Water Shiatsu are very useful catalysts to healing. Working in warm water brings the inner nature safely to the surface, in a nurturing & calm environment. Our work in water is not only beneficial for rehabilitation, but truly comes into its own to allow the natural mind to unfold and the spirit to heal.


Definition of Naturopathic Medicine. Copyright 1995 GCRN.
Pizzorno, Joseph, 1996, Total Wellness, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA
Murray M. & Pizzorno Joseph, 1991, Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA
Tarnas, Richard, 1991, The Passion of the Western Mind, Pimlinco, Random House, London
Varela, Thompson & Rosch,1996 ed, The Embodied Mind, Cognitive Science & Human Experience, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Patrul Rinpoche,1997 ed, The Words of My Perfect Teacher, Harpers Collins, India
Peat, David, 1994, Blackfoot Physics, Fourth Estate Ltd, London.
Capra Fritjof, 1996, The Web Of Life, Harpers Collins, London.
Lovelock, James, 1988, The Ages of Gaia, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Davidson, John, 1987, Subtle Energy, C.W Daniel Company Ltd, Saffron Walden.
Griggs Barbara 1997, The New Green Pharmacy, Vermillion, Random House, London
Hakim, 1988, The Traditional Healer, Mackays of Chatham, Kent.


Green Lodge has very recently used all these principles in fairly drastic conditions, setting up a complete medical infrastructure according to naturopathic principles, for a community of over 2000 people, including children, monks, nuns refugees from Tibet in the South Of India. As this project is ongoing, anyone wishing or interested to know more or help can contact me at the Centre. Green Lodge Naturopathic Centre, Russells Road, Halstead, Essex, CO9 1SN. Tel 01787 475195.


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About Anne Williamson

Anne Williamson works at Green Lodge, Centre for Integrated Natural Medicines which set up a complete medical infrastructure according to naturopathic principles, for a community of over 2000 people, including children, monks, nuns refugees from Tibet in the South Of India. As this project is ongoing, anyone wishing or interested to know more or help can contact me at the Centre. Green Lodge Naturopathic Centre, Russells Road, Halstead, Essex, CO9 1SN. Tel 01787 475195.

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