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First Do No Harm. Diagnostic methods and treatments with highest safety are used first, whenever possible, while those with highest potential for harm are used last.
Find and Treat the Cause. Treating symptoms is not treating the problem; the true causes of health problems must be addressed and may reside in physical, chemical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions.
Doctor as Teacher. True doctoring is not just fixing problems, but also becoming a patient’s tutor in how to maintain good health, and empowering him or her to do so.
Treat the Whole Person. Each person is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Instead, learning a person’s full story, including medical and nonmedical history and current factors, is essential to an individualized treatment plan.
Prevention and Wellness. A key goal is to look at each person’s risk factors for illness and then strengthen health naturally before disease becomes an issue or recurs. This focus on prevention and wellness also extends to community education and working to create healthy environments.
These principles play out in practical ways all the time. For instance, Tecchio explains that she investigates which systems are out of balance and suggests therapies that engage the body’s natural healing abilities. “If we are talking about an infection, in addition to getting rid of the infection, we educate the patient to keep it from happening again. A lot of times diet has been affected, or the immune system, and we show the patient how to take responsibility to correct their internal environment. If we just give them a pill, we take the responsibility out of the person.”
A Different Kind of Doctoring
A visit with an ND is not what you may be accustomed to in a medical office. A typical first visit lasts 90 minutes but can be longer. Subsequent visits are usually an hour. “I can take time for the whole person,” says Sam Schikowitz, an ND based in New Paltz. Besides addressing overt medical issues, he says, “I check in on their mood and lifestyle, ask how they are sleeping, eating, whether they exercise, what they’re watching on TV or the computer.” In fact, Schikowitz chose this form of medicine precisely because it encompasses so much. “I am able to touch and be touched by people in a way that is deeper than any other thing I could possibly do. I feel that nothing else could get me in touch with wisdom better.”
“We’re a lot like old-time doctors,” explains Rise Finkle, an ND who practiced for 10 years in Connecticut before moving to the Hudson Valley four years ago. “MDs are very good doctors too, but they just don’t have the time that we do to spend with a patient. We get to know the whole person. Many times people come to us after having been to lots of doctors and experts and are not getting better, but often the way out of the situation is taking time to listen to everything that is going on with the patient.”
The vast majority of people, says Schikowitz, primarily need to learn how to care for themselves better. “Certainly some do need drugs, which is why we want to have the ability to use that part of our training. But mostly they need to change how they are spending time and energy, how they are eating, dealing with stress, and in their mental hygiene.”
Naturopaths commonly see chronic conditions—fatigue, depression, anxiety, digestive disorders—as well as acute things, like upper respiratory tract infections. Cancer patients can benefit too. “People come to me with cancer in different stages,” Schikowitz says. “For those undergoing chemo and radiation, I am recommending techniques and substances that have a good body of scientific evidence showing that they improve effectiveness or reduce side effects of cancer treatment. People often need help with nausea, improving appetite, and just having someone to talk to who is a touchtone for grounding.”
NDs are also committed to researching health issues, and help those patients who want to do their own research navigate information overload. “We sort out what’s right for them,” says Finkle. “There is also misinformation out there—a lot of what you see on TV is just wrong.” The same is true with nutritional and herbal supplements. “The number of companies putting products out there is overwhelming,” she says. “A lot of times the newfangled things just don’t work as well as the original Chinese or Ayurevedic herbs. When an ND sells supplements, it’s because we’ve researched it and we want to make sure it’s the highest quality.”