Naturopaths have a history of being mysteriously miraculous. It was one of the things that piqued my interest in the field (and actually continues to do so) from an early age. At 14 I borrowed a book about Cellular Biology from my local library and developed a keen interest in the body, at that same time I had my 1st visit with a Naturopath and I simply knew it was what I wanted to do.
At 21 years of age I threw myself into study of my own accord. I sacrificed many things to do so, and after 5 years and 2 qualifications I completed my course. The world was my organic free-range oyster.
Bring on the clinic. The customary water feature. The herbal dispensary. The aromatherapy oils. The meditation music……
If only I knew then what I do now.
It is hard to be a Naturopath. It is hard to be medically ridiculed for your career choice. It’s hard to be scoffed at in the media. It is hard to explain to people that you have a degree (and an advanced diploma) in what they refer to as “Pseudo Science”. It’s hard to swallow the road of sacrifice to get where I am. It is harder to know that you are employed on the whim of people who book in to see you. If someone is not sitting on the other side of my desk, I am unemployed. Patients need to be in a place of affordability and a position of determination to see me. Both circumstances are like waiting for 2 meteors to collide. The only financial benefit I can offer people is if they can afford Health Insurance to claim a nominal amount on the cost of consultation. This is currently under review (threat) by the federal government.
A glut of Naturopathy students hit the workplace during the early 2000’s. An increase in employment potential in Health Food Stores and Pharmacy hinted at some progression in the industry and popularity by consumer demand. Independent colleges started running “special deals” for studying Naturopathy. Online, Offline or Remote with fancy coloured diploma’s that could be bought, and not necessarily earned. It had never been easier to become a Naturopath as more and more people began to recognise who and what we were. Health became cool and food fads and superfoods were like king tides, rushing onto the scene causing havoc, and retracting just as quickly.
In just over a decade later private colleges are dropping the Diplomas like dead flies and sadly, due to dwindling admissions the only University offering the highest qualification is closing it’s doors on the degree as well. Naturopathy has received a kick in the guts by nobody but itself. While the phone was running hot, and the jobs started rolling in we put on our rose-coloured glasses and collected our pay packets as the industry offered our services for FREE – a fatal mistake. By doing so we severely devalued our qualification. We came out in droves and filled shoes that had never been filled before, we didn’t know any better and we were bitten by our own teeth. Our governing body(s) should have been marching a long the picket lines warning us and penning the next terms of industry regulation but they did not. We have been left on what remains of the battle field. Many Naturopaths have ‘other’ jobs now referring to their degree as a hobby they share with their family & friends (because why pay for advice when you can get it for free?). We have earned a place a long side the booming health industry (largely owned by pharmaceutical companies) with thousands of health products that promise ‘natural’ health to those willing to self medicate in the aisles of their supermarkets. These companies advertise their hefty range of products on TV, such as the Chemist Warehouse and others who have vested interests in the open wallets of self-prescribers. Let me burst your bubble – most of those products are CRAP. They are poor empty untested solutions for people who know they don’t feel 100% and want to take something ‘safe’ and ‘natural’ to miraculously change their life. It is the same pill-popping mentality that modern medicine created. The same companies that manufacture pharmaceuticals figured out a way to encapsulate a dream of well-being, because swallowing a tablet is so very easy to do.
If we really want to step up to succeed as Naturopathic Doctors WE HAVE to be represented utterly and completely by competent regulating agencies who wish to represent us on a National scale. We need more money to finance research in our field. We need more public access to alternative evidence-based medicine. We need to reign in the advertising of ‘natural’ medicine until higher regulations for testing and product approval have been met.
There are enough experts in the field of Natural & Functional Medicine to warrant a pinch of respect in the field of medicine. Every year various International Congresses of Natural Health are held all over the world where medical, integrative and natural practitioners meet to further advance the application of Complementary Medicine (CAM). Complementary and alternative medicine, as defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Big whoop. That basically states what we are not, rather than what we are. It’s 2015, can we please break down the perception that Naturopaths are hippie lunatics that descended from mountain communes and use Rhino-horns in their medicine?
I recently suggested to a Medical Practitioner that I might take some Vitamin D for the “alternative” treatment of a health condition. She stared blankly at me. I felt silly. Like I was about to say “Sorry, I should not have said that. It was very, very wrong of me to have an opinion based on…….MANY medical research papers that suggest Vitamin D is a useful adjunct to treatment for blah blah blah“. I might have thought she would be interested in my opinion, being that I am passionate about health and have a qualification that I believed warranted some professional standing. This is an example (not a fact) of the great divide that still exists between conventional and complementary medicine.
The majority of people whose feet find their way to my clinic are those who are at the end of a line. A line of disconnect, an uncertainty of what they want, and who they are. They have commonly been to Doctors, Dietitians, and various Specialists but still arrive in a state of helplessness. I might be wise to feel threatened receiving people at this point. What could possibly be left to do to help a person who has “tried everything”?After 15 years of clinical experience I have seen memorable transformations. I have thought long and hard about what was the ‘magic’ for change, and it’s not magic. It is less about the lotions and potions. I am not a miracle worker, only a practitioner of wills. There is not an infinite program, a strict method of paper work to put in place with a definitive result. It is providing the best evidence-based advice, actively listening to people and giving them permission to honour their life and story with good food & lifestyle choices.
All practitioners of CAM and Integrative medicine have the ability to do so. Even more so when working together.
Lynda. Whose feet found their way to my clinic…..
Melanie Robinson ND BHSc works at Gaia Health in Port Macquarie, NSW. She is a contributor to Nurture Magazine, Presenter at Ignite 2015, Mother to 2 boys and deeply passionate about her career and the health of the community.