Health Matters – Naturally Qualified

This article originally appeared April 27, 2012, in issue 2016.

As interest in alternative health grows, natural health practitioners seem to be springing up everywhere. But how credible is your natural heath provider? Has she attended and passed an accredited course at a reputable school and been licensed for practice by a third-party licensing body (to whom she is still accountable)? Or does he claim to practice safe natural medicine, with only a weekend course behind his name?

In many parts of Canada and the US there is little or no regulation of natural health practitioners. This means that there are no training requirements, so misrepresentation is easy; natural health care practitioners can label themselves as such, despite their inadequate practical training, lack of knowledge, and often dangerous medical practices. Practitioners can easily claim skills they don’t possess, advertising themselves using the same descriptive name as qualified practitioners (?massage therapist,? for instance).

Before placing yourself under the care of a natural health practitioner, it is imperative to check out his qualifications and education first. don’t be satisfied with a claim (?I’m an acupuncturist?); find out where she received her education (was it the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine or a correspondence course?), what initials they have behind their name (and whether these actually exist as part of a body of practitioners), and whether they’ve passed their licensing exams.

Why Bother?

But why the fuss? Since natural health practitioners practice ?natural? medicine, it must be safe, right? Not necessarily.

There are two main reasons for checking your practitioner’s qualifications. First is safety; a practitioner who’s passed licensing exams has been tested extensively around safety issues. A naturopathic doctor, for instance, has been tested for knowledge of contraindications between botanical supplements and pharmaceutical medications. A properly trained acupuncturist knows what angle to insert acupuncture needles to avoid piercing organs or major blood vessels. Safety is key in medical practice, regardless of whether the treatment is ?natural,? and improper instruction can be devastating to the patient. I recall the story of a friend who had visited a shiatsu therapist for stress relief; she hadn’t checked to ensure his proper training and licensing, and as a result sustained a serious brain stem injury when the practitioner attempted heavy pressure on the back of her neck as part of his therapy.

The second reason to check your practitioner’s qualifications is to assess her skills and training. You want the best health care available, so your provider should be able to work with you on all aspects of your care. Better training and experience can lead to better results. You want someone trustworthy and reliable, someone of whom you can ask questions and who will give you knowledgeable answers.

What Do I Look For?

There should be several must-have items on your checklist. First, check the ?letters? after the practitioner’s name. Is your naturopath a ?naturopath? or a ?naturopathic doctor?? The letters ?N.D? after the name should distinguish the real from the fake. In some provinces of Canada (Ontario, for instance) and much of the US, anyone can call herself a ?naturopath? (with no distinction between those who’ve had a six-month correspondence course with no clinical experience and those who have taken a four-year postgraduate program with 12 months of clinical rotation). Find out what the licensing requirements are in your province or state, and go from there.

Is your massage therapist a Registered Massage Therapist (R.M.T), or does he just call himself a ?massage therapist?? The R.M.T. initials mean that the practitioner has not only passed a comprehensive program at a reputable school with clinical experience, but has also passed licensing exams.

What about your acupuncturist? The initials D.Ac. Or L.Ac. after the name indicate an acupuncturist who is licensed to practice in your province or state. You can determine licensing status either through a direct inquiry or through a visit to the practitioner’s office to ensure that the certificate from the licensing body is not only displayed on the wall but also up to date (with registration stickers for the current year, or some other significance indicating current licensure).

Checking qualifications can seem unnecessary, but without consistent regulation of natural health practitioners It’s easy for unqualified practitioners to pass themselves off as thoroughly trained. Your health is important enough that It’s worth the hassle to ensure the best possible care.

Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.