What a naturopath can and can't do for you

With recent changes in regulations for naturopathic medicine in Canada, naturopaths are gaining new rights. Find out what a naturopath can—and can't—do for you

By Alicia McAuley

What a naturopath can and can

Thanks to recent changes in naturopathic medicine regulations in Ontario and B.C., naturopaths will soon be able to offer a wider range of treatment options to their patients. Here's what the new regulations will mean for you, and tips for finding the right naturopath to meet your needs.

What can a naturopath do for you?

To become a naturopath in Canada, an individual must have completed an undergraduate degree in pre-medical science, followed by a four-year post-graduate program at one of two accredited schools of naturopathic medicine in Canada (located in Toronto and New Westminster, B.C.). Once they have completed the program, they are required to pass regulatory board exams. Naturopaths use this training to treat both acute and chronic conditions, and work with patients to achieve optimal health.

While you may choose to see a naturopath as your family doctor, their primary focus is on a natural approach to health care. Acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, hydrotherapy, clinical nutrition and lifestyle counselling are among the typical treatments that you could expect to receive from a naturopath, depending on your needs.

Education also plays a vital role in the world of naturopathic medicine. "Naturopathic doctors really believe in educating patients and engaging them in their own health care," says Shawn O’Reilly, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND). "They want you to feel empowered and take ownership over your health."

New rules for naturopaths

Naturopaths have been regulated in Ontario for decades under the Drugless Practitioners Act, and this will continue for the next three years until the new regulations come into effect. Then, naturopaths will be regulated according to the Naturopathy Act, under the Regulated Health Professions Act, which also regulates chiropractors, physiotherapists, and other health care providers. Under this new act, naturopaths will have increased prescription rights, as well as access to ordering laboratory work.

“More and more people are turning to naturopathic doctors for their health care needs,” says O'Reilly. “Prescribing authority will mean that collaboration is much more of a possibility between naturopathic doctors and other health care providers.”

As for how the changes will affect patients, O'Reilly explains that “Individuals will be able to go to a naturopathic doctor and receive prescriptions for medications such as antibiotics for strep throat." She notes that the changes will also give naturopaths access to natural substances that were previously unavailable to them. “It really widens the scope of our practice,” says Sarah Oulahen, a Toronto-based naturopath and owner of SOW Health.

This development is seen as a significant step forward by those in the field of naturopathic medicine. “Hopefully this will legitimize and really bring out the notion that we are a health care profession that deserves to stand beside conventional medicine and conventional doctors,” says Oulahen. “I really believe that this is the future of health care.

What are the limitations?

Though the new regulations will allow naturopaths to offer a wider range of treatment to patients, there are still some areas where it is best to see a conventional doctor. For example, naturopaths do not have access to diagnostic imaging, such as MRIs. If you're dealing with a broken bone or need surgery, you will still need to consult a conventional doctor. In cases where a patient is in need of conventional medical treatment, a naturopath will refer.

"We're not opposing each other," stresses Oulahen. "It's not one or the other. My view is that it would be best to use both [approaches]."

What about non-regulated provinces?

Although naturopathic medicine is not currently regulated everywhere Canada, registered naturopaths may still be working in non-regulated provinces. And when it comes to regulation, other provinces may not be far behind. "The support that B.C and Ontario have received is going to go a long way in setting precedent in unregulated provinces," says Alison Dantas, CEO of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors (OAND). "It will really motivate and enable other provinces to come on board."

How to find the naturopath that’s right for you

Oulahen has a few key guidelines to offer when it comes to selecting a naturopath. “I tell people to first go to the CAND or OAND website so that they can find a registered naturopath in their area,” she says. "It's always important to check qualifications."

Then, she recommends that you sit down with a naturopath one-on-one so that you have a chance to get to know each other. “As a doctor, we see every patient as an individual, but every naturopath is going to be an individual as well,” says Oulahen. “Knowing the views of your naturopathic doctor and who they are as a person is a good idea, because then you can really find someone who would be a good fit for you.”

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Web exclusive, May 2010

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