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Naturopathy as a Profession: Current and Future Prospects

by Dr Brian Isbell(more info)

listed in naturopathy, originally published in issue 118 - December 2005

The Basic Principles of Naturopathy:
  • The importance of considering the individual as unique;
  • The need to identify the cause(s) of the condition rather than treat the symptom(s);
  • The individual possesses the power to heal themselves;
  • The whole person needs to be treated and not just the area of the body where the symptoms manifest.
The 'Nature Cure' Tradition Focuses On:
  • Diet
  • Detoxification
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Counselling
  • Life style

Naturopathic Approaches

There are several systems of Naturopathy practised in the UK, but they are united in that they share a common philosophy. The shared aims are to maintain health by supporting and stimulating vis medicatrix naturae (the healing power of nature) and that only nature can cure. The four basic principles of Naturopathy that are shared by most Naturopaths are:

  • The importance of considering the individual as unique;
  • The need to identify the cause(s) of the condition rather than treat the symptom(s);
  • The individual possesses the power to heal themselves;
  • The whole person needs to be treated and not just the area of the body where the symptoms manifest.

Naturopathic approaches stress the importance of health maintenance, disease prevention as well as patient education. Naturopaths believe that the body will strive towards good health, the establishment of homeostasis and is its own best healer. Naturopathy is an approach to health, rather than a specific therapy and emphasizes a way of life that is in harmony with nature.[1]

Many Naturopaths in the UK base their treatment on the assessment of diet and nutrients for the individual, adequate rest, relaxation, exercise, fresh air, clean water and sunlight. Many Naturopaths, therefore, utilize treatment that includes dietary advice, in some cases including the use of supplements, detoxification methods, bodywork, hydrotherapy, counselling and advice on lifestyle. Naturopaths may also use osteopathy or other forms of bodywork, herbal medicine or homeopathy and in some cases acupuncture. Naturopaths trained in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Israel or South Africa are eclectic in their approach and use a wide range of natural therapies with the aim of stimulating the body's ability to heal itself. However, no matter how diverse the range of therapies used by the Naturopath, the treatment is tailored to the unique needs of the patient.

What are the Origins of Naturopathy?

Some aspects of Naturopathy share common ground with ancient holistic health systems such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In these holistic systems, all aspects of the patient must be considered, and treatment will take into account the physical type, lifestyle, diet, exercise, rest and relaxation requirements of the individual. These systems mirror the holistic philosophy of Naturopathy in which the physical, biochemical, environmental, hereditary, emotional and spiritual aspects of the individual are taken into account.

Many of the principles of Naturopathy are based on the teachings of the Greek physician, Hippocrates (460-375 BC). In his teachings he maintained that health was dependent upon eating simple good quality food and exercising, and that disease occurred as a result of a disturbance of the balance of the body. In his teachings, Hippocrates claimed that only nature heals and it must be given the opportunity to do so. He taught that frequently what may be considered as undesirable symptoms, may be the body attempting to eliminate unwanted or toxic materials through fevers, sweating, swellings (inflammation), vomiting or diahorrea. His teachings emphasized that both the practitioner and the patient need to recognize that these symptoms must not be suppressed, as they are the methods by which the patient's body is attempting to eliminate toxins.

The term Naturopathy was first used in the 19th century. During this period, systems of nature cures were developed simultaneously in the USA and Europe. The approaches included the natural methods of hydrotherapy, dietary advice, fasting, fresh air, quality drinking water, sunlight and exercise.

Naturopathy is now practised on many continents. In some states of America, Naturopaths are primary-care physicians. In Germany, Heilpraktikers (health practitioners) are state licensed. In other countries such as Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Israel, Naturopaths enjoy a degree of autonomy.

What can Naturopathy be used to Treat?

Naturopaths, especially eclectic practitioners, use a wide range of natural therapies. At one end of the spectrum there are practitioners who closely follow the 'nature cure' tradition that is focused on diet, detoxification, hydrotherapy, counselling and lifestyle advice. At the other end of the spectrum there are eclectic practitioners who use a wide range of therapies including Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Nutritional Therapy and Therapeutic Bodywork.[2] Naturopaths have much to offer, particularly in the treatment of degenerative and chronic conditions such as arthritis and asthma. Consideration of the mind-body dimension has lead to Naturopathy being used in the treatment of patients with chronic fatigue and depression.[3] The emphasis on the determination of the nutritional needs of the individual means patients with gastrointestinal problems, including 'leaky' gut, can be treated. Research in the US has indicated that the eclectic approach can be an effective alternative to antibiotics, anti-virals and surgery for some chronic conditions.[4]

Educational Training of Naturopaths

In the UK until recently, many Naturopaths gained their education in Naturopathy while completing their course in Osteopathy. However, since the formation of the General Osteopathic Council, the Naturopathic content of many such courses has in most cases been reduced, to accommodate the requirements of accreditation by the Council. The change in name of the British College of Osteopathy and Naturopathy to the British College of Osteopathic Medicine was seen by many in the Naturopathic profession to be an example of such a change in emphasis.

In July 2004, the University of Westminster gained accreditation by the General Council and Register of Naturopaths for a Naturopathic pathway. The provision of degree level courses in Naturopathy is seen by many in the profession to be an important development.

The Profession

As within the professions of many other complementary therapies in the UK, there is an attempt to bring practitioners and educational providers together. Those who have graduated from various colleges and are members of different Naturopathic associations have worked closely together, initially under the Naturopathic Forum and more recently the General Naturopathic Council. The primary role of the Council is to unite the profession, agree on standards of education and clinical competence and establish codes of practice. Uniting Naturopaths under a single Council will continue to be a challenge with so many systems of Naturopathy being practised in the UK. In addition, some Naturopaths practising within the UK have received their training in the US, Australia or Canada and, therefore, apply an eclectic approach using a wide range of treatments. Such Naturopaths may practise Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Nutritional Therapy and in some cases Acupuncture. How eclectic Naturopaths will be able to continue to practice these therapies, when there will in the relatively near future be minimum requirements for each of these therapies, is a challenge for the Naturopathic profession, educational providers and the statutory framework.

The UK profession is monitoring the problems that are beginning to surface within the Naturopathic profession within the United States. In the US, attempts to unify the profession are proving a challenge. What initially appeared to be a great achievement has for many proven to be a mixed blessing.[5],[6] Within many states, Naturopaths have been accepted as primary healthcare doctors but this applies only to graduates of specified colleges, one of which is Bastyr. The educational training of the majority of traditional Naturopaths is being deemed by the licensing authorities to not be of an adequate standard, so many practitioners will not be licensed. The developments of the Naturopathic profession not only in the US, but also Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are being closely scrutinized to ensure that any issues during the development of the profession are addressed at an early stage as the profession develops within the UK.

The Future Prospects

The recent accreditation by the General Council and Register of Naturopaths of a Naturopathic pathway at the University of Westminster heralds an important development in the education and research into Naturopathy within the UK. The availability of a BSc (Hons) degree award in Naturopathy will enable graduates to be able to more easily gain recognition in Europe, North America and Australia to enable them to practise overseas. The research facilities within a UK university will enable patient outcome research to be carried out to assess the effectiveness of Naturopathic therapeutic interventions. In addition, the provision of MSc, MPhil and PhD will catalyse the development of research to new levels of provision.

Naturopathy is currently at a critical stage of evolution within the UK. The profession needs to be able to unify, establish a regulatory framework that educational providers adopt and, in addition, to work with practitioners to contribute to the research evidence of effectiveness of Naturopathy. With the integration of Complementary Medicine into primary healthcare,[7] there is growing interest in the application of Naturopathic philosophy to healthcare provision. By addressing these challenges, Naturopathy will be able to continue to make a valuable contribution to healthcare provision in the 21st century.


1. Featherstone C and Forsyth L. Medical Marriage. The New partnership between Orthodox and Complementary Medicine. Findhorn Press. Scotland. 1997.
2. Micozzi M S. Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2nd edition, Churchill Livingstone. Philadelphia. USA. ISBN 0-443-06576-4. 2001.
3. Peters D, Lewis P J, Chaitow L and Watson C. Chronic Fatigue Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 4: 31-38. 1996.
4. Pizzorno J E and Murray M T. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 2nd edition. Churchill Livingstone. England.1999.
5. Warren K. Licensing Naturopaths as doctors 'protects the public'. British Naturopathic Journal. 22(2): 4-5. 2005.
6. Alschuler L. Licensing does not restrict public access to healing modalities. British Naturopathic Journal. 22(2): 5-6. 2005.
7. Peters D, Chaitow L, Harris G and Morrison S. Integrating Complementary Therapies in Primary Care. Churchill Livingstone. UK. ISBN 0-443-06345-1. 2002.

Further Information

For additional information about the Naturopathic pathway or other courses contact: The Admissions and Marketing Office, University of Westminster, 115 New Cavendish Street, London W1W 6UW. Tel: +44 (0)20 7911 5883; Fax: +44 (0)20 7911 5079; ;


  1. Dr. Deepak Jadhav said..

    very good article.

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About Dr Brian Isbell

Brian Isbell PhD BSc DO MRN is the Head of the Department of Chinese Medicine and Complementary Therapies in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Westminster. The current degree Scheme is the largest portfolio of complementary medicine courses in Europe.

Brian is an Osteopath, Naturopath and Cranial Therapist and has worked within the NHS and the University of Westminster's multidisciplinary Polyclinic for several years. Brian has taught biomedical sciences and complementary medicine for over 30 years. He may be contacted via

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