A beginner's guide
If you're a holdout because you don't know the difference between naturopaths and homeopaths, let this introductory guide, well, guide you.
Coast to coast, natural health practitioners are finding their medical niches. A 2005 Statistics Canada report reveals that 20 percent of Canadians (about 6 million) use alternative health care. If you’re a holdout because you don’t know the difference between naturopaths and homeopaths, let this introductory guide, well, guide you.
The naturopathic doctor (ND) is the general practitioner of complementary medicine. Naturopathic doctor Michael Mason-Wood, who practises at the Natural Terrain Naturopathic Clinic in Fort McMurray, Alberta, sees splinters one day and degenerative disease the next.
Like a medical doctor, to become an ND, Mason-Wood completed eight years of schooling, the last four at an accredited college. But, unlike many medical doctors, Mason-Wood takes a holistic approach to patient care. “We want to look at treating the root cause of disease,” he says. “To do that, it takes a lot longer.”
A typical first visit lasts one to one-and-a-half hours, during which an intensive medical history is taken, sometimes along with diagnostic testing for heavy metals, hormone levels, and food intolerances.
Individualized treatment can include nutritional counselling, herbs, supplements, homeopathic remedies, and more. Some NDs take extra courses that allow them to focus on specialties such as women’s health or cancer.
It was herbalist Tobi Jane Panter’s own health issues that turned her onto plant medicines and got her started on what she calls an “incredible path of self-exploration and health improvement.”
She explains that herbal traditions are practised in different styles, including Ayurvedic, traditional Chinese medicine, First Nations, and Western. Regardless, any practising herbalist will want to get a full picture of a person’s health. Accordingly, a first visit is usually at least an hour, with shorter follow-up visits.
The herbal medicines prescribed come in tea, tincture, liquid extract, or supplement form. Along with herbal formulas prepared to work synergistically, some herbalists may also offer dietary or exercise recommendations. At Hummingbird Holistic Healing in Vancouver, Panter combines herbalism with acupuncture, acupressure, and psychotherapy.
“It’s important that the herbalist know what other therapies are being used, and that the other therapists know as well,” cautions Panter. This is especially true in cases where people are taking pharmaceuticals and herbals.
One modality that’s an unfortunate target for skeptics is homeopathy. But for practitioners of 30 years such as Ranvir Pahwa of RP’s Alternative Health Centre in Saskatoon, there’s no doubt in his mind that it works—and works well.
This complex system follows a like-cures-like principle. When we cut onion, for example, we get tears, a runny nose, and burning eyes. So, in cases of hay fever or allergy, homeopathic onion is prescribed to evoke the body’s natural corrective healing response.
An initial consultation with a fully trained classical homeopath could take hours, says Pawha, although experienced practitioners usually need less time to identify symptom patterns and prescribe remedies made from diluted and then energized medicinal products.
Pawha sees good results with acute and chronic complaints—everything from colds and flus to arthritis pain, heart disease, depression, and emotional issues.
Traditional Chinese medicine
When patients visit Lin Liu, doctor of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) at the Eastern Healing Centre in Winnipeg, she asks about their medical history and symptoms, and examines the tongue and pulse. The tongue’s colour, size, and coating, for instance, disclose information about the health of internal organs, she explains.
Depending on the complexity of a patient’s condition, a TCM session can take as little as 10 minutes and up to one hour, especially if acupuncture or tui-na (massage) is involved. Both offer pain relief, the main cause of discomfort in patients who visit Dr. Liu. She also helps people deal with internal problems such as PMS, menopause, high blood pressure, and cancer. Treatment ranges from herbs to dietary suggestions based on TCM principles.
Asked about possible contamination of the imported herbal products that she prescribes, Dr. Liu stresses that TCM clinics usually have well-tested products of higher quality than are sold by other vendors.
If you’re suffering from back pain, neck pain, headaches, sprains or strains, or pain due to an accident, chiropractic may be for you.
This primary care profession is a “drug-free, manual approach to health care that includes assessing, diagnosing, and treating neuromuscular skeletal injuries and sports injuries, as well as helping to optimize health and performance,” says Dr. Katherine Au, doctor of chiropractic (DC) at SHAPE Health and Wellness Centres in Toronto.
DCs assess problems related to the spine, pelvis, and extremities, and their effect on the nervous system. A treatment, says Dr. Au, consists of some form of soft tissue therapy, spinal manipulation, stretching, and rehabilitative or corrective exercise.
Skills for spinal manipulation or adjustment are gleaned during four years of intensive training and three or four years of undergraduate study at university.
A first visit takes between 30 minutes and one hour. Follow-up treatments take 15 to 30 minutes. Chiropractic is often covered by private medical plans.
The long list of conditions that can be helped using massage therapy is similar to chiropractic. Not surprisingly, the two modalities frequently work together.
Massage therapy, however, focuses more on soft tissues—the skin, muscles, tendons, fascia, and joints, relates Jacquelyn Power of the Able Bodies Massage Therapy Clinic in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Registered massage therapists (RMTs) learn numerous techniques during training, including Swedish massage, pressure point treatment, lymphatic drainage, and hydrotherapy. But every RMT has his or her own style and specialties.
A typical treatment lasts one hour and also involves stretching, strengthening exercises, and tips for home care. Any and all ages can benefit. At Able Bodies Massage Therapy, Power’s oldest client is in her eighties.
Natural medicine enjoys huge diversity and this is just a sampling of the modalities available. Search for professional associations of natural health practitioners in your province. Ask a friend, family, or existing health care practitioner for a referral.
Don’t be shy to ask about each professional’s qualifications. Above all, be satisfied with your choice.