The Primary Goal of a Naturopathic Physician: Getting on the Same Page

We asked our own Dr. Joshua Levitt ND, to help us better understand the primary goal of a naturopathic physician is and what he strives for when dealing with patients. With millions of people each year seeking the best in holistic and conventional treatments, it is always a good idea to have a candid discussion with your health care provider about their goals and methods to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Here is what Dr. Josh had to say.

What is the primary goal of a naturopathic physician?

Great (and surprisingly tricky) question!  It would be easy for me to simply say that my “primary” goal as a naturopathic physician is to restore health. So, we’ll start there…the restoration of health is a primary goal. But, things get a bit more complicated because naturopathic physicians understand that the restoration of health is more than just the suppression of symptoms. As such, naturopathic doctors are trained to identify the underlying causes of illness and develop personalized treatment plans to address them. Those treatment plans are organized using a structure that we call the Therapeutic Order, which is intended to provide maximum benefits with minimal risks. The way a naturopathic physician approaches a case will tend to follow this general framework:  


  1. Remove Obstacles to Health. To restore health, the removal of any obstacles to health is a critical first step. Naturopathic physicians investigate these obstacles (like poor diet, inadequate physical activity, excessive stress, digestive disturbances, insufficient rest, toxic exposures, socioeconomic stressors, trauma, etc.) and develop a plan to address them. Overcoming these obstacles will improve the conditions under which the disease developed. When the “terrain” is improved, vitality will increase, which will maximize the potential of the healing process and that of any additional interventions. We often refer to this part of the process as Treating the Cause. 
  2. Stimulate Self-Healing. Naturopathic physicians use interventions that strengthen and stimulate the body’s natural innate healing and repair mechanisms. In my practice, these therapies include modalities such as diet,  lifestyle, and psycho-emotional counseling, clinical nutrition, and botanical medicine. In nearly 20 years of experience, I have also come to understand the power of patient education (in words they can understand) and reassurance from an experienced clinician as playing a significant role in strengthening the self-healing process.
  3. Strengthen Weakened Systems. Individual body systems that are not functioning optimally are addressed at this level. Naturopathic doctors have an arsenal of therapeutics available to enhance specific tissues, organs, or systems. These include specific lifestyle interventions, dietary modifications, botanical medicines, and the therapeutic use of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, phytochemicals, and other natural products to specifically improve the function of a weakened body system.  
  4. Correct Structural Integrity.  Here, naturopathic doctors use their unique training in a range of hands-on bodywork techniques to improve, support, and maintain the integrity of the musculoskeletal system. Interventions on this level involve the use of physical therapies such as trigger point release, therapeutic massage, spinal manipulation, therapeutic stretches and exercises, and biomechanical corrections to improve posture, release tension, increase strength, and decrease pain. 
  5. Natural Substances. As discussed, the primary objective is to restore health, not to treat pathology but there are often times when a specific symptom or pathology must be treated. The first set of tools that a naturopathic doctor relies on are natural substances like nutritional and herbal extracts or supplements that do not contribute to additional burden or toxicity. 
  6. Pharmacologic Substances. It is surprising for many people to learn that naturopathic doctors are trained in pharmacology and know how to use pharmaceutical drugs when necessary. Depending on the regulations in individual states (and countries), naturopathic physicians may either prescribe these agents themselves or refer to a conventional medical colleague.
  7. High Force Intervention: When life, limb, or bodily function is severely threatened, naturopathic doctors fully understand and appreciate the value of modern, conventional medicine, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and other high-tech medical interventions and procedures.  I routinely refer patients to medical specialists, colleagues who are expertly trained in these areas. To support patients undergoing any of these “higher force” interventions, naturopathic doctors use complementary or supportive therapies to decrease side effects and increase the effectiveness of conventional care.

Thank you, Dr. Josh, for this thorough and informative answer to the question. We hope that this will encourage others to speak with their physicians, both conventional and alternative, to further understand their approach to wellness!

-Dr. Joshua Levitt