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Finding the Right Doctor: Types of Naturopaths

Autoimmune conditions can be difficult to diagnose, treat, and manage. Many who have these conditions seek healthcare providers who use natural or alternative treatments in conjunction with common western medical treatments, or in place of current treatments that may not be working, to relieve symptoms.

What are the most common types of naturopaths, and what are the differences in their approach/training?

  • Chiropractors may be the most familiar alternative healthcare provider.  A chiropractor is a physician who may prescribe medication and treatments, but also include musculoskeletal manipulation to relieve pain or symptoms.  Chiropractors attend 3-4 years of pre-med with a BS in Science and go on to attend an accredited Chiropractic School where they are trained for another 4-5 years.  Their training is as rigorous and lengthy as a medical doctor, with additional training in holistic or natural medicine.  They are board certified and become licensed in all 52 states/territories.  You can find more information at the American Chiropractor Association website.
  • Acupuncturists will study several years beyond a traditional college degree and become certified in Acupuncture and naturopathy.  They study how the nerve pathways and pressure points in the body influence disease and pain.  They combine natural or herbal medications with the techniques of pressure points to relieve the painful symptoms of many autoimmune conditions.  Practicing acupuncturists study for 4-8 years under a professional acupuncturist before becoming certified.  They are recognized as licensed professionals in 42 states, but are not considered physicians.
  • Herbalists are most often certified and have attended a specific school that teaches the affects of herbs and natural ingredients on the body’s major organs.  Their belief is that natural ingredients and herbs, when used in combinations, can detoxify the body, relieve the symptoms of autoimmune conditions, and restore health.  They are not recognized as physicians, and the herbs and natural ingredients they use may not be approved by the Federal Drug Administration. Often the prescribed herbs are the result of years of trials with good results.

How do I know what type of naturopath is best for my care?  Do I choose a chiropractor, acupuncturist, or herbalist?

It can be difficult and frustrating trying to decide what physician or healthcare provider can be the best choice for treatments of autoimmune conditions.  Start by doing research on the types and the specific philosophies each follows.  Bastyr University in San Diego, California, offers courses for naturopathic providers in all fields.  Visit for an overview of the types of naturopaths they train and the length of the study.

Next, have a candid conversation with your current physician about your treatment, alternative treatments, and the benefits of a naturopathic regimen.  Ask yourself if your symptoms are more muscular, skeletal, or hormonal, and discuss the possible benefits that alternative therapy might offer to treat your specific symptoms.

How could I best coordinate care between different naturopaths and a medical doctor?

The important part about coordinating treatments between different naturopaths is to communicate with each one about your symptoms and the other treatments you are following. If you are taking herbs from one provider, then be open to discussing this with your medical doctor and visa versa.  It is imperative to your health that all providers know and understand all of your treatments and the reasoning behind each treatment.

If there is a contradiction in treatments between providers, discuss the risks, the results, and your symptoms to be better able to coordinate a successful health plan for you.

Communication is essential.  Finding naturopaths that are educated in their field and have the certification, state license, or have passed national boards and have the clinical experience with your autoimmune condition will offer you the best opportunity for a successful result.

Questions to ask the doctor about integrating care among all of your practitioners:

  • Will you share my medical information with the naturopaths of my choice?
  • Can you recommend a naturopath that will work with us to improve my symptoms?
  • Have you had experiences with other naturopaths in developing a treatment plan for clients with the same condition that I have? How successful was that treatment?
  • What natural remedies, herbal treatments, or alternative treatments do you feel comfortable including in a patient with my autoimmune condition?

About the Author
Terri Forehand is a critical care nurse and freelance writer. She is the author The Cancer Prayer Book and a soon to be released picture book titled The ABC’s of Cancer According to Lilly Isabella Lane. She writes from her home where she lives with her husband and an array of rescue dogs nestled in the hills of Brown County, Indiana.


This blog post was originally published by, written by Terri Forehand, and first published on Jul 8, 2012.

This post contains the opinions of the author. Autoimmune Association is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances. Autoimmune Association does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website. Your use of the website is subject to our Privacy Policy.

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