by Dr. Erica Volk
Welcome to my blog! If you have arrived here, you are likely already curious about naturopathic medicine and potentially seeking an alternative to your conventional health care. If this is the case, congratulations! I am so excited for you and can’t wait to see you flourish! You are at an amazing juncture and taking one more step forward has the potential to dramatically change your life. Below are some of the wonderful things you have to look forward to when you see a naturopathic doctor, as I learned through my own experience as a patient.
It took me twenty-five years to find myself in my first experience with a naturopath. Before that, I had heard of naturopathic doctors but I had never realized that my symptoms weren’t "normal" or that there might be a solution. I had just learned to live with my symptoms and with my resulting limitations.
1. If you experience any symptoms, or suffer in any way, even with “normal” things like constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, shortness of breath, anxiety, menstrual cramps, acne and rosacea, a naturopathic doctor can probably help you reduce or eliminate these problems for good.
A trip to the doctor was often an anxiety-provoking experience, requiring courage to bring up my deeply personal health concerns, and leaving me feeling vulnerable if my problems were not taken seriously or given much consideration. I actually felt guilty about “whining” to my doctor about issues that “weren’t that big a deal.”
2. A naturopathic doctor will spend time with you, and listen to your story in its completion. They respect and honour your experience and understand the huge effect “little things” can have on our quality of life and on our feelings about ourselves. They are committed to helping you feel better inside and out.
Then there was that 15 minutes, 1 complaint rule. But I have a sore throat AND diarrhea!
3. Naturopathic doctors know that various symptoms are often related to imbalances in biochemistry, organ function, and lifestyle choices. Their job is to understand the entire body and mind, make connections and recognize patterns. You are actually encouraged to share all your complaints and medical history. This actually leads to more effective treatment.
For about fifteen years I had health concerns that were managed with pharmaceutical drugs. The problem was that these drugs caused adverse reactions, which were then treated with other pharmaceuticals. It seemed like the only option was pharmaceuticals or suffering. Sound familiar?
4. Naturopathic doctors have so many tools in their tool belts! In addition to receiving comprehensive training in pharmaceutical drug management, naturopathic doctors also have expertise in botanical medicines (herbs), homeopathy, physical medicine, clinical nutrition, counseling and stress management, toxicity and environmental medicine, and this is just the tip of the iceberg! This means that if one avenue doesn't work, there's another one to try. There's always something that can be done!
After over a decade of using pharmaceuticals for my symptoms, I started to wonder if I was going to be taking these drugs for the rest of my life. Was this effective medicine? There had to be another way. And there was.
5. Naturopathic doctors strive to treat the cause of disease. Sometimes this means pharmaceutical drugs are necessary. More often there are other methods and treatment options that can palliate or eliminate the symptoms without the pharmaceutical side effects.
I began to develop my own preferences for the kind of treatment I wanted and I became protective of my body, wanting to use minimally invasive therapies whenever possible.
6. Naturopathic doctors respect patients' unique values, preferences, and financial situations, and strive to accommodate patients whenever possible. By staying up-to-date on the scientific evidence for different treatment options, they are able to inform patients about pros and cons of different options to empower patients in making health decisions that are right for them.
I grew tired of feeling like my health was at the mercy of the knowledge and actions of my doctor. I trusted that my doctor knew what was right for me but I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting better.
7. Naturopathic doctors teach their patients about their disease process and how they can be advocates and key players in their own health care. They empower patients and give them the tools and knowledge they need to help themselves!
My doctor ordered lab testing, but the results were always normal, or not worth worrying about, or so I was told.
8. Naturopathic doctors don't just look for glaring abnormal lab results but are trained to identify the "grey areas" when lab results aren't overtly abnormal but aren't normal either! They recognize that symptoms often start in this "grey area" and they will be proactive in treating you before your health gets worse!
When I was quite young, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. This was my "label" and I was told that there really were not any medication options available for my "label" so I would just have to live with the symptoms. I lived with the symptoms for a long time.
9. Naturopathic doctors see past the label (also known as diagnosis) commonly assigned to patients. They use this as valuable information and then look deeper and start the work as a committed detective for your health. You have "diabetes"? Which systems are out of balance and why? What can we do about it? You have "anxiety"? Great! Now let's see if there are any dietary, sleep issues, stress-response issues, or biochemical imbalances that we can address. We respect the labels but we use them as a starting point, not a finish line.
I remember the day I experienced my first visit with this "different kind of doctor." After being asked in depth about my medical history, I remember saying to her, "Who are you? You're not a normal doctor!" She just smiled and carried on. When I left her office with a proper diagnosis and treatment in hand, I felt hope. Hope!
Now that I have become a naturopathic doctor, here are some of the things I've heard from patients on a regular basis:
"No one has ever asked me these questions before."
"No one has ever done such a comprehensive exam before."
"No one has ever been so thorough before!"
Patients leave the office with light and hope in their eyes and by the time they return for follow-up, they are already on their journey to feeling better.
It's a wonderful thing. And it is available to you.