A teenage patient asked me once, “So what is different about coming to you guys over my “regular doctor.” I used my stock answer (which usually gets a laugh in teenagers, no small feat), “The main difference is that we use bigger needles on our patients.”
But all jokes aside, I felt this was a very good and reasonable question and one that deserves a well thought out answer. What does make us different from a conventional western doctor, or even from another alternative practitioner’s office? The answer is important, mostly because you are putting your trust in us with your most precious commodity, your health. But also, it is something that we would like our patients to understand our thought process and why we make some of the recommendations we do. We would also like you to understand why we are different so that when you tell others about our clinic, you can tell them why we are different.
An ancient Chinese medical text described three types of doctors, and while this was written thousands of years ago, we think it is still pertinent today. The first kind of doctor merely cured your disease. While this sounds good, this was considered the least of the doctors. The second type of doctor was an expert in diagnosing disease both when it was symptomatic, but also right before in order to prevent it and was seen as better than the first. The last type of doctor was however the most skilled and respected. He or she was able to keep his or her patients so healthy that they never manifested illness in the first place. This third type of doctor was able to remove the underlying predisposition to illness.
This third category is what we see as our ultimate job. While curing illness when it is present is a good thing, if the original cause of the illness is not addressed, another illness either similar or sometimes very different will often come up. One of the defining principles of naturopathic medicine is to identify and treat the cause of illness. This is one of the reasons we spend so much time with our patients, trying to identify what is really going on. We are very interested in what was happening before you got sick – perhaps a physical trauma, the death of a loved one, an infectious disease, or perhaps a falling out with a friend. Physical symptoms are your body’s way of saying something is out of balance. Your body uses symptoms to try to restore health. Often the body, being the remarkable organism that it is, is able to restore health perfectly on its own. In these cases we try to support the body’s own healing processes and let the body do its own thing. Other times, the body is unable to return to a place of health and an unhealthy pattern of symptoms becomes set in place, leading to what we call chronic illness.
Western medicine is good at the first type of healing. Removing the symptoms of an illness makes a patient feel better and often the patient is pleased. But there is potentially a problem here. Most of the treatments of allopathic medicine, and potentially many of the therapies used in alternative medicine as well, work by suppressing the symptoms of illness. More often than not, the underlying cause of why the symptom was there in the first place is not addressed. Unfortunately, the body is still ill and the body will present new symptoms in an attempt to fix the underlying problem. Often, the later diseases that show up are worse than the original symptom being treated. We see evidence for this in our elderly patients who are on increasing amounts of medication to control ever increasing new symptoms.
But is this what true health is about? Relying on pills and surgeries to allow people to just get by is not the ultimate goal of healing. Ideally, we would like to see all our patients thrive in all aspects of their life – physically, emotionally, professionally, in their relationships, and in their spiritual lives. It is only then that someone is truly healthy. This ultimate goal is reflected in our purpose statement:
Our purpose is to get people well so that they can become the person that they were intended to be. By feeling better physically, emotionally, and spiritually, our patients are more able to find and fulfill their own purpose here on earth.
We are also not naïve. There is a time and a place for all medical treatments. When a situation is life-threatening or causing severe disruption of quality of life, we are supportive of conventional therapies. Often, we have had to convince a patient who was completely distrustful of the conventional medical system that a referral to a specialist is the best choice or that a medication or surgery might by the best option at this point. At the same time, we are willing to work with this patient to find ways to help so that they can achieve the highest possible outcome from the treatment and attempt to find good long term alternatives. There are other times when an illness is incurable and the best we can hope for is improved quality of life. There are definitely tools we have that can help in these cases as well.
If you are truly interested in getting well, you can expect more than one visit. If all you are interested in is the first type of doctor, the one who cures your illness, it is possible that your current symptoms may clear up after one visit. But in order to allow us to be the type 2 and 3 doctor, we need to build a relationship and work over time to improve your health to the point where you no longer need us or any other doctor. Because, even though I joked we had bigger needles to the teenage patient, in our experience, the sicker you get the bigger and more invasive the treatments become just to keep away symptoms.
Thank you for reading this and we look forward to working with you on your journey toward health,