Principles of Naturopathic Medicine: Doctor as Teacher

The next principle we will discuss is Docere, or doctor as teacher. The idea is not simply your doctor telling you to eat more vegetables, or exercise. I will start with the premise that those and similar concepts are “givens”:  basics known by everyone, regardless of how you execute them. Yet, they can still be part of teaching. We all need encouragement to make better choices in life, and explanations of the consequences of ignoring those choices.

Doctor as teacher is both deeper and broader. There are treatments that can be taught so that they can be done at home personally or on family members during acute illnesses. When only you and your sick child are awake at 2 a.m., you can have an arsenal of ideas so that you can get through the night and may not even need to see the doctor the next day or in a rush.

I tend to spend sixty to ninety minutes with patients. Even during a treatment, we are able to talk. I can learn more about you and you can learn more from me. I can explain more in-depth what we are trying to do with each aspect of treatment. I can explain the theory and understanding behind the medicine. Much of what Vitalist doctors practice include foreign concepts--very different from how Americans think about health. We need more than just a fifteen minute walk-through in order to explain and teach what we are trying to accomplish in your body.

For example, American culture misunderstands the purpose of fevers and the benefits of cold water. What if a fever is your body’s only way to actually get better? The body needs to “discharge” or, put another way, remove the waste material produced by illness. It also needs the fever to fight the infection. It is actually a designed protective mechanism of the body. It can, of course, get out of hand and unsafe, but typically a fever is nothing to fear. Dr. Henry Lindlahr, one of the founding fathers of naturopathic medicine, describes acute diseases as a result of the purifying and healing reactions from the body.

Similarly, few people know that cold water is the best way to strengthen the body. It is also the best avenue by which to prompt the body to react. If you place your hand under cold tap water for thirty seconds, what is the reaction? The blood shunts, or moves, more internally to maintain the core body temperature. After removing the stimulus (the cold water), the area turns pink and blood shunts back to the surface to warm it. In thirty seconds, you have done a workout equal to weight lifting with your hand. No, you have not strengthened the muscles; but you have moved oxygen, metabolic waste and lymph fluid as if you worked out. Imagine if you applied cold water to the whole body. Most people are quite exhausted after a full-body treatment with cold water.

Doctor as teacher is not just reminding you about what you probably already know.  It is teaching you about your body’s intended design and function, and what you can do to support and strengthen that function. Most importantly, your can learn how your body can heal itself with the correct stimulation and direction.