Are Holistic Physicians and Licensed Practitioners Right for You?

By Val Silver

Do you wish your medical doctor was also a holistic healer? Holistic physicians, naturopaths, and other licensed medical practitioners are growing in number as doctors and patients grow disillusioned with conventional medicine and its focus on symptoms instead of wellness.  They are being accepted by the medical community as alternative medicine gains a foothold in the world of mainstream medicine.

These medical professionals are a boon to patients who want more from healthcare than what conventional medicine alone has to offer. They provide a valuable service, especially to patients with complicated and serious health challenges.

Some specially trained doctors add holistic medicine specialties to their practices. As different types of alternative medicine pass the rigors of scientific research, medical institutions and doctors aim to give consumers what they want.  Acupuncture, naturopathy, massage, and other recognized therapies are available to more and more people. 

Not only can you find holistic doctors and licensed practitioners in some medical facilities, you may also see them gaining celebrity status. They blog, publish books and wellness programs, and appear on TV and video. 

Types of Licensed Practitioners

Holistic physicians

Holistic Physicians, also called integrative medicine doctors, are educated and trained in conventional medical institutions. They are licensed as either Medical Doctors (MD) or Doctors of Osteopathy (DO).

In addition to their medical degree, a holistic physician has several additional years of study in one or more forms of alternative medicine. These therapies, such as acupuncture, are recognized and accepted as safe and effective for certain conditions.

Holistic physicians take the holistic healing approach to wellness. When a doctor uses both conventional and alternative medicine to treat a patient, it is called integrative, or integrated, medicine. The number of holistic doctors, and integrative medicine facilities are growing due to public demand and supportive research. If you are lucky enough to have integrative medicine doctors in your area, he or she can be a great asset to you, especially if you have chronic or serious health concerns. 

Dentists and nurses also have the opportunity for holistic training to enhance their skills. Holistic dentists are sometimes called biological dentists.

Naturopathic doctors

Doctors of naturopathy, often called naturopathic doctors or naturopaths, have met training and licensing requirements of a particular state. Doctor of naturopathy, or ND. is a protected designation. Training is offered through four-year on-campus programs at seven certified colleges in the United States and Canada. 

As of this writing, at 22 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S Virgin Islands, and five Canadian provinces recognize naturopaths as licensed health care providers. Insurance coverage may be available in states that license them (check with your carrier).

Naturopathic physicians are trained in natural medicine. They favor a holistic healing approach to healing and wellness. ND's use natural remedies to foster the body’s ability to heal and balance itself. They emphasize preventive methods such as lowering stress, healthy living, and self-healing.

7 principles of naturopathic medicine

Naturopaths also receives training in medical imaging, blood testing, and minor surgical procedures. Some naturopathic methods are not accepted as part of conventional medicine.

Note that there is some confusion about unlicensed naturopaths trained through online programs and licensed practitioners. Individuals trained at correspondence schools may receive a comprehensive education, but they do not have the same level of education as those trained at certified colleges. In order to be a primary care provider, a doctor of naturopathy must complete a four year on-site program, take board exams, and practice in a state or locale that licenses them.

Some holistic practitioners complete the rigorous ND training, but are not able to practice under a license because their state has not passed necessary legislation. They can be a valuable asset to you when you need a skilled holistic health practitioner.

Find a doctor of naturopathy near you.

Functional Medicine Doctors

A licensed practitioner who practices functional medicine may be a holistic physician or a naturopath.

Functional medicine takes an individualized holistic approach that focuses on the person who has a disease, not on the disease and symptoms a person has. Practitioners focus on health-promoting lifestyles, preventing disease, and restoring health by addressing the underlying causes of illness. In addition to lifestyle factors, practitioners examine the biochemical factors causing disease and implement treatments that promote health instead of just suppressing symptoms. 

Acupuncturists 

holistic physicians, acupuncture

Not all states require licensing of acupuncturists. If you live in one of these states, be sure to check the practitioner's credentials before booking a session.

Look for certification by the American Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. In Canada, look for certification from the Acupuncture Foundation Institute of Canada.

Acupuncture has gained widespread acceptance in the West in recent years. Some holistic physicians train in acupuncture and offer it as an option to their patients for a variety of conditions. Some insurance companies cover acupuncture.

Licensed acupuncturists graduate after an intensive three year on-site program that includes training in oriental medicine, herbs, acupuncture and other modalities. My neighbor went to acupuncture school, so I got a glimpse of how intense her program was.

Chiropractors

Chiropractors, or Doctors of Chiropractic (DC), are licensed medical professionals who focus on diagnosing and treating problems related to the muscles, skeletal system, nervous system and spine.

There are different types of chiropractors. An Atlas Chiropractor uses a device to correct misalignment of the atlas and axis at the top of the spine. If you have neck problems, I highly recommend you locate a chiropractor in your area. My atlas chiropractor has helped me immensely.

Massage Therapists

Massage therapists offer a variety of massage styles including the soothing Swedish massage, hot stones, deep tissue work and trigger point therapy. 

Massage has become one of the most popular forms of hands-on holistic healing for relaxation and pain relief. It is considered holistic because of the mind-body connection. Massage relaxes the mind as muscles release tension. Sometimes repressed emotions surface and are released when associated muscles are massaged.

As part of, or in addition to their formal training, therapists often learn and incorporate other forms of body work and energy healing into their sessions. 

Currently, 43 of the 50 states in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have training and licensing requirements for massage therapists. Training requirements vary widely from state to state.

Choosing a Holistic Physician or Licensed Practitioner

When deciding whether to partner with holistic physicians, a doctor of naturopathy, or other licensed practitioner it is wise to be aware of your state or country's requirements. Many areas have strict regulations about what practitioners can call themselves, but not all. 

Also be aware that not all integrative medicine doctors and alternative therapists are knowledgeable about nutrition, natural remedies and techniques outside of their specific area of training. Don't hesitate to interview the practitioner and ask about their level of training, points of view, experience, and areas of expertise. You may want to ask for referrals or check them out online.

Acupuncturists, chiropractors and massage therapists can be found in many areas of the country, but medical doctors who practice alternative therapies or take a holistic approach are still few and far between. If one isn't available to you, you can still benefit by learning from them on TV or online. You may also be able to book phone consultations if you cannot travel to them. 

Your local holistic health practitioners and wellness coach can also be valuable sources of help and information as a complement to your conventional medical care. This way you get the best of both worlds-modern medicine and holistic health and healing.

Are one or more of these medical professionals right for you?  Which ones have you experienced? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Source: What is the difference between functional medicine, integrative medicine, holistic medicine and naturopathy?

Holistic physicians page updated 03/2020

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