Naturopathy vs. Homeopathy: What People With Chronic Pain Need to Know

naturopath2Here at Pain Camp, we believe it is important for those of us with chronic pain to keep an open mind regarding pain management tools and techniques.  Those of us who have experienced years of using the traditional “conventional” or “Western medicine” approach, may find solace in exploring other options.  These other options may include trying out other practitioners within the field of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).  Complementary and alternative medicine can be integrated with conventional medicine.  When first exploring CAM practitioner types, many of us wonder, “Naturopathic or Homeopathic, what is the difference?”  So what are the differences between these two types of practitioners?

Naturopathic Doctor (ND) – Naturopathic Doctors (ND) have completed at least 4 years of naturopathic medical school.  They have studied the same core classes in the medical sciences as Medical Doctors (MD).  Currently, there are 11 States that require board licensure to practice as ND.  NDs can work together with someone’s primary MD, or they can be viewed as a standalone primary care physician.  They view their position as that of an educator for their patients, empowering patients to take an active part of their health.  They look for risk factors and also focus on prevention.  They utilize systemic diagnostic tools and interventions based on holistic and natural practices.  NDs follow certain principles in their work with patients.  Three of these principles are:

The Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae) Humans are complex and intricate beings and living systems.  We have an intrinsic healing process powered by nature and this healing process can be thwarted by certain obstacles (poor diet, stress, environmental toxins).  NDs support and facilitate the healing process with natural options.
Identify and Treat the Causes (Tolle Causam) Rather than treating symptoms, NDs look at the symptoms as the body’s natural mechanism for self-healing.  These are clues that the ND uses to try and identify the actual cause of the disease and go after treating the causes, not just treating the symptoms.  It is important to note here that in most states, it is against the law for NDs to give a formal medical diagnosis and they’re not allowed to prescribe traditional medication.
Treat the Whole Person NDs assess their patients holistically including the patient’s systems of health: genetic, emotional, social, physical, mental, environmental and spiritual.  Diagnostic and treatment modalities are individualized to meet the needs of the patient.

Homeopath –  Homeopaths can be trained in a couple of different ways.  A Medical Doctor (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) that is licensed can complete additional coursework of 100-150 hours, pass an exam and become a Board Certified Diplomat Homeopathic physician (D.Ht).  Or, there are accredited programs that require an Associate of Arts degree to enter and take an additional 2-3 years to complete the homeopathic practitioner program.  Once this is completed, with additional supervised clinical hours, a certification exam can be taken.  There are only a couple of states that will actually license a homeopathic practitioner and they must also be licensed as an MD or DO.  Homeopaths also believe in the healing power of nature and the body’s ability to heal itself.  Homeopathic practitioners follow these two main principles:

Like Cures Like This principle reminds me of a well-known remedy for a hangover, “taking a hair of the dog that bit you”.  I’ve also heard of this likened to a natural form of a vaccination.  Homeopathic practitioners work with “substances” which are plant or mineral based and usually in the form of a pill, liquid solution or a cream.  If the substance given to a healthy person causes specific symptoms, it could then also be given to someone afflicted by an illness or disease with those same symptoms.  In turn, this may cure the illness or disease in the afflicted individual.
The “Law of Minimum Dose” This refers to the notion that the more diluted the homeopathic substance and remedy, the more powerful and effective it is.  By decreasing the amount of the active ingredient by diluting the substance, the strength of the substance actually increases.

Pain Camper Plan of Action

Ask questions and do your research It is helpful to know what results you’re hoping to receive when exploring visiting a CAM practitioner.  Do your research by looking up the practitioner on line and read any comments on their website.  Investigate any particular treatment modalities or equipment they may use.  It may be helpful to ask these questions:

-What is your professional background and where did you receive your education?
-Do you maintain regular contact with your professional community and maintain continuing education?
-What is your experience working with chronic pain and related disorders.
-How do you know when someone is ready to discontinue seeing you or when they’ve improved?
-Will you work with my other care providers for integration?
-What are your rates and payment options.

Contact your health insurance It is vital to know if your health insurance carrier considers CAM as an approved treatment modality.  You can find this out by contacting them or by doing a little sleuthing on your own and reviewing your “Certificate of Coverage” or “Insurance Certificate”.  Each Managed Care Organization (MCO) calls them something different.  It is usually a 60-90 page document with specific details about what services are covered, your cost and excluded benefits (services that are not covered).  Unfortunately, many times just calling your insurance company will prove unreliable.  Be CLEAR when you’re asking for benefit information. It is helpful to ask if the specific treatment is a covered service or if it is considered an “exclusion” (not-covered).  You may even need the 5 digit CPT code (if there is one) that the MCOs use for billing to help the person on the other line determine if it is indeed a covered service or not. You should be able to get this CPT code from the CAM practitioner.
Inform your regular doctors Make sure to inform your regular team of professionals that you’ve started exploring CAM.  Also inform them of any new treatment modalities or supplements you’ve started to take.  This includes type, strength and dosing schedule.  Sometimes it is easier just to bring in the bottles and items to show your doctor.

Check out some other Complementary and Alternative Medicine resources.

Pain Camp is a safe place to share your thoughts, experience, strength and hope.   Have you explored visiting a Naturopath or Homeopath?  Was your experience positive or negative?  Did your health insurance cover the services?

photo credit: Gyeshe @ Flickr

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