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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

What is naturopathic medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is classified as an alternative healing method, but licensed naturopathic doctors share some of the same academic background as conventional medical doctors and can often prescribe some medications. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), naturopathic medicine is holistic care that addresses a wide range of problems including (but not limited to) allergies, chronic pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, obesity, respiratory conditions, heart disease, fertility problems, menopause, adrenal fatigue, cancer, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Naturopathic medicine aims to strengthen and empower the body and its organs to heal itself through low-force interventions. Here are some examples of the type of medical services often provided by naturopathic doctors, as cited by the AANP:

  • Clinical and laboratory diagnostic testing
  • Nutritional medicine
  • Botanical medicine
  • Naturopathic physical medicine (including naturopathic manipulative therapy)
  • Hygiene
  • Counseling
  • Minor surgery
  • Homeopathy
  • Acupuncture
  • Intravenous and injection therapy
  • Naturopathic obstetrics (natural childbirth)

Can naturopathic doctors prescribe medication?

Licensed naturopathic doctors can prescribe some pharmaceutical medication. Naturopathic doctors complete academic training similar to that of conventional physicians: a bachelor’s degree with a focus on pre-med studies, followed by a four-year residential naturopathic medical program whose first two years have a similar foundation to that of a conventional medical school. After completing their studies, they must pass a post-doctoral exam. Although licensed naturopathic physicians are able to prescribe medication, they usually focus on prevention rather than treatment of symptoms. A naturopathic doctor will offer a holistic approach to your care that encompasses your mental, physical and emotional health. While they will prescribe medication as needed to treat illness, they are also likely to be creating shifts in your lifestyle and nutrition to effect deeper changes in your body’s response to illness.   

How long do naturopathic doctors go to school?

Like conventional physicians, naturopathic doctors undergo rigorous academic and clinical training prior to practice. Typically naturopathic doctors go to school for eight years. There are currently 20 states in the U.S. that provide licensing for naturopathic doctors. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, a naturopathic doctor must complete a bachelor’s degree and an accredited four-year residential naturopathic medical program, and pass an extensive postdoctoral board examination, the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX), in order to receive a license or registration to practice medicine.

The first two years of the residential naturopathic medical program cover many of the same areas of study as conventional medical schools. Naturopathic doctors provide primary patient holistic care. The goal of naturopathic medicine is preventative care and a focus on low force intervention healing methods. This can include natural medicines, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, homeopathy and much more. Naturopathic doctors often work in tandem with conventional medical doctors, as the two practices complement one another.

How do you find a good naturopath?

It’s important not to get misled by the title “naturopath” when searching for a naturopathic doctor. A naturopathic doctor is a licensed professional, while anyone who so desires can call themselves a naturopath. A naturopathic doctor has completed eight years of schooling and is licensed to provide high-quality medical care. When searching for a naturopathic doctor, a good place to start is by researching your state’s licensing and regulatory body for that profession.

Currently, 20 U.S. states license the practice of naturopathic medicine. For those seeking holistic, body-centered healing solutions, a naturopathic doctor can be a good fit. They use natural medicines as well as treatments such as electrotherapy and ayurvedic medicine to encourage the body to heal. Once you have determined a list of naturopathic physicians who are licensed in your state, look for reviews, ask for referrals, and interview the physician in person or by phone to find the right care provider for your health needs.

Do naturopaths take insurance?

Many naturopathic doctors accept insurance, but a separate question is whether your insurance covers alternative and naturopathic services. There are several steps you can take to find out:

  • Verify whether you live in one of the 20 states that currently licenses naturopathic physicians:
    • Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
  • Confirm whether your insurance will cover naturopathic medical services. Read your insurance plan’s fine print, verify whether naturopathic doctors fall into your insurance carrier’s definition of a doctor, and confirm that the care you are receiving is considered medically necessary. Questions to ask your insurance provider could include:
    • Am I covered for this treatment by a naturopathic physician?
    • Do I need a referral?
    • Is there a list of approved naturopathic doctors in my network?
    • What will the co-pay be?
    • Are there limits to my naturopathic coverage?
  • Before seeking medical care, it’s key to understand the difference between a naturopathic doctor and a naturopath. Anyone may advertise themselves as a naturopath, while to be a licensed naturopathic doctor, a person must complete academic and clinical training.
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