A naturopathic doctor examines the wrist of one of her patient at her office in Belfast.

Dr. Amy Rothenberg, ND, knows full well she could see three times the patients a day that normally pass through her Naturopathic Health Care in Connecticut, if she would just cut down on the time she spends with each individual.

But that’s now how she — and her fellow naturopaths — do things.

That’s because, according to Rothenberg, while contact with a conventional doctor during an office or clinic visit rarely lasts more than an hour, a visit to a naturopathic doctor could easily go twice that long, and that, she said, is an important consideration when your choosing a naturopath.

The naturopathic doctor, she said, will work and talk directly with you for as long as it takes to understand the root causes of your symptoms as well as getting a handle on your overall health and wellness goals.

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Unlike conventional doctors who generally address and treat the specific symptoms of disease with pharmaceuticals or surgery, naturopathic doctors seek to find and treat the cause of the disease using a variety of therapies and behavior modification, and that means getting to know the patient as an individual inside and out.

“That first [office] visit often comes as a welcome surprise for patients,” Rothenberg said. “Some have never had a doctor ask so many different questions.”

Do some research

Naturopathic doctors will tell you there’s a lot more to finding and choosing a qualified naturopathic health provider than doing a quick internet search on your laptop.

“It’s really important to do your homework,” said Dr. Dennis Godby, a naturopathic doctor in Sacramento, California. “There are people out there who call themselves ‘naturopaths’ but who, in reality, took part in some weekend workshop on herbs and did not go to a four-year medical school.”

“You want to be sure he or she is licensed as a naturopathic doctor, or ND,” Rothenberg said. “That means they have gone to [and graduated from] a certified four-year post graduate residency medical school [and] ensures they are qualified.”

According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, there are currently seven accredited naturopathic medical schools in North America — five in the United States and two in Canada — and 23 states that currently license naturopathic doctors to practice there.

These medical schools are Bastyr University, National University of Natural Medicine, National University of Health Sciences, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, University of Bridgeport — School of Naturopathic Medicine, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine. The association has a handy map listing the states where naturopathic doctors are licensed to practice.

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Even in states that do not directly license naturopathic doctors, some have provisions allowing naturopathic doctors to work alongside medical doctors, provided the naturopathic doctor is licensed in another state.

It is crucial, according to Godby, to research where a naturopathic doctor went to medical school and to make sure it is one of the seven accredited ones.

Think of your needs

Naturopathic doctors are trained as primary caregivers, according to Rothenberg.

“When you are looking to choose an ND, it really depends on your needs,” Rothenberg said. “Just like MDs, we NDs will practice in specific areas like heart disease or obesity and want to work on the causes of those diseases by looking at the whole body [and] others are more like general practitioners.”

That practice of looking at the whole body for the causes behind a disease or health issue is what really separates naturopathic doctors from medical doctors.

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While naturopathic doctors understand conventional medicine and use many conventional diagnostic tools in their practices, they also bring in strategies not taught in conventional medical schools, including the connection of social stress to physical disease and the use of plant-based medicines and botanicals in treatments.

“We generally try to start with the least toxic option,” Rothenberg said.

How long will I spend with an ND during a visit?

A good naturopath should be accessible, Rogthenberg said.

“You also want to meet with the doctor to make sure you and he or she are a good match,” she said. “You really need to find the right doctor for the right person and build a relationship of active listening and trust.”

Can I look for an ND online?

Godby said there is nothing wrong with consulting online resources like Google in an initial search for a naturopathic doctor. He also recommends digging a bit deeper on the informational highway and looking at lists of naturopathic doctors on sites managed by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and state naturopathic doctor associations.

Godby and Rothenberg also recommend contacting your insurance provider to see if they cover naturopathic medicine and determine if you need a referral before seeing a naturopathic doctor.

Naturopaths should also work well with medical doctors as part of their treatment programs, Godby said.

“We need MDs to make a complete treatment system,” Godby said. “Our egos are not involved, so it is not uncommon to refer a patent to another ND or to an MD’s office because it comes down to what is best for that individual patient.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.