Naturopathic and Allopathic Healing: A Developmental Comparison
Joel Funk, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Plymouth State University
Paper presented at the Ninth Annual Adult Development Symposium
Amherst, MA June 24–26, 1994
Part Two of a two-part series
12. Developmentally, naturopathy is more advanced in its possession of a more extended, more integrated time frame. It does not look for short-term symptom reduction, but seeks long term cures and ultimately the restoration of health in general. This requires patience and diligence on the part of the healer and the patient. Allopathy may appear to work in the short run, but more often than not fails in the long run. As noted above, the standard allopathic treatments for cancer—radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy—all weaken the immune system and frequently cause cancer or other fatal illness in the long run (Walters, 1993).
A more subtle example was offered by one naturopath, who stated that most pediatricians keep the child “not too sick” by cumulatively drugging (toxifying) the body. The patient may eventually develop, say, a liver disease, requiring many years of cleansing and naturopathic healing. Yet, for the first few decades of the patient’s life, the allopathic physician seems like a success, despite being partially responsible for the later condition.
Another naturopath observed that short-term cures usually set up patients for worse problems later on (see #9 above). She gave the example of using antacids to depress production of or to neutralize hydrochloric acid in the stomach to prevent heartburn. This appears reasonable in the short run, but viewed over an extended time period, the problem looks rather different. Paradoxically, the typical heartburn sufferer does not produce enough hydrochloric acid in the initial stages of digestion—this is the real cause. Later on, the stomach, realizing that digestion is not taking place properly, overreacts by producing too much acid at the wrong time, thus producing the heartburn. Taking antacids at this juncture not only does not cure the underlying problem, it can make the patient dependent on antacids. A naturopath would instead recommend safe digestive enzymes with the meal (e.g., bromelain) as an initial step. On a deeper level the goal would be to restore the stomach’s acid production to normal using systemic means.
A more mundane example: allopaths recommend nasal decongestants, which, through a rebound effect, only lead to more congestion, as the body tries to eliminate toxins. People often then become addicted to conventional decongestants. Naturopaths, working with, rather than against the body, recommend, among other treatments, a nasal spray containing a variety of herbs and cofactors, which soothe the nasal membranes, fight the infection, and allow for easier mucous flow.
13. Even more importantly, naturopathy emphasizes prevention over treatment of disease. Along with Indian Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine (acupuncture, chi gong, herbs) naturopathy offers a positive conception of health. Chinese doctors typically were paid only when the patient was healthy; illness indicated some failure on the physician’s part! Allopathy has no positive conception of health, aside from the absence of manifest disease symptoms. As many naturopaths have observed, we do not actually have “health care” in America, we have “sickness care.” One naturopath summed it up, only half-facetiously: If your blood sugar is 120 you’re diabetic and then allopaths will treat you; if it’s under 119, they’ll say to come back when it gets worse.
Thus allopathy often has little to offer the person suffering with a chronic disease, such as diabetes. In effect, the patient is told that they cannot get better, and that they will have to spend a shortened and progressively deteriorating lifetime limiting their diet, monitoring blood sugar levels, and injecting insulin. The disease can be controlled (partially), but not cured.
Naturopaths, in contrast, extend an optimistic view to their patients towards treating diabetes and other degenerative diseases. They state that we don’t “get disease,” we “create disease” by breaking down our natural defenses through poor diet, lifestyle, etc. The good news is that if a patient creates bad health, he or she can also create good health. In short, naturopathy offers the possibility of regeneration, a very empowering philosophy of healing (see #15 below).
One naturopath related a personal anecdote, in which he was told as a child by a leading New York City allergist that, due to his family medical history, he was virtually guaranteed to develop allergies. Raised by a naturopath himself, he stunned the allergist years later when he was examined and declared symptom free. He remains so to date. In short, a naturopathic regime prevented the allergic genotypical predisposition from manifesting phenotypically. The real goal of naturopathy, then, is not to treat disease, but to educate people to prevent disease from developing in the first place.
14. If, as many developmentalists have observed, being able to penetrate the social norms and self-created structures that bias the average member of society is a sign of higher post-conventional ego development (Cook-Greuter, 1990), then, clearly, naturopaths score high from this viewpoint as well. [My educated guess would be about Stage 5, or “autonomous.”]
The contrast between naturopathic postconventional level ego development and allopathic conventional level ego development can be seen in their respective attitudes towards criticism and diversity of opinion. Naturopaths are extremely open and flexible, thriving on the multiplicity of ideas and treatment approaches that abound. For example, one naturopath was excited to learn recently of an herb, uño de gato, which has been used for centuries by rainforest shamans in Peru. This herb has been found by naturopathic researchers to be a superior immune system stimulant, beneficial in the treatment of AIDS, cancer and a host of degenerative disorders. In short, naturopaths are open to any and all treatment modalities that are safe and effective, regardless of their source, regardless of conventional or mainstream (or even naturopathic “mainstream”) opinion.
In contrast, allopathic physicians are generally rigid and closed in their thinking, and demand a uniformity of opinion. Treatment methods, even those that have been shown to be effective and safe, are ignored if they do not fit the official doctrines of what is permissible. For example, allopathic medications for prostate enlargement do not work effectively, ultimately necessitating surgery. Numerous studies have been conducted in Europe on an herb called pygeum which demonstrate reasonable effectiveness, without side effects. Faced with this evidence, one of the leading urologists in America commented that, despite its obvious value, he would never prescribe it, as it was a “health food” remedy. Frequently articles that present an alternative perspective are rejected for publication in medical journals.
A famous example of the rigidity of the allopathic approach is the case of Linus Pauling, still living at 93. Despite having achieved world-wide acclaim for his research and having won two Nobel Prizes, one in chemistry, when he began to endorse vitamin C as a great healing nutrient, he was permanently ostracized by the mainstream scientific community.
15. Naturopathy empowers the patient, whereas allopathy does not. Allopathic use of drugs and surgery and its dominator approach to healing all too often make the patient passive, helpless, diminished, and disempowered. The “ultimate cure” for the naturopath lies in educating the patient to live in harmony with Nature. The naturopathic patient becomes increasingly responsible for their own well-being, gradually phasing out the interventions of the healer. The obverse of empowerment, however, is responsibility, and not all people are willing to assume this responsibility. Many naturopathic failures are due to the lack of commitment and follow-through required by patients, many of whom had been disempowered by the “passivating” strategies of allopathic medicine (see addendum below).
16. It is a truism in developmental stage theory, that a person at a lower stage cannot fully comprehend the world view of someone from a higher stage (Commons et al, 1984). Linear formal operational thinking cannot grasp postformal, systemic and meta-systemic modes of thought. Thus, as one naturopath took pains to point out, even when allopathic medicine does try to incorporate some of the naturopathic findings—as in recent pronouncements touting the benefits of a high-fiber, low fat diet, exercise, and selected vitamins—it tends to miss the point. For example, she took issue with the context-ignoring espousal of a low fat diet as beneficial. While eliminating harmful fats, it also cuts down on essential fatty acids needed for sex hormones, assimilation of Vitamin D, etc. Under such conditions, the liver may in fact overreact to produce cholesterol anyway, even without fat coming in. The organism’s requirements and its holistic functioning are not easily assimilated by a world view incapable of seeing the body as more than a mechanism.
Similarly, a presystemic approach to diagnosis will not be able to comprehend the systemic conception that one area of the body may somehow reflect the state of the entire organism, e.g., the iris in iridology, the feet in reflexology, the ear in acupuncture, the skin, the tongue, the hair, etc. Allopathy prefers man-made, mechanical methods of diagnosis to organismic methods (or as one naturopath put it, “the early warning signs that the Creator provided for us.”)
17. Naturopaths have an integrated view of the person as a unity of body, mind, and spirit. They treat the person as a totality, avoiding the dualism inherent in much of allopathic medicine, where all too many problems, e.g., chronic fatigue syndrome until very recently, are dismissed as “all in your head.” Allopathic physicians are just now conceding what naturopaths have argued all along, namely that there is, in large part, a biological basis for the chronic exhaustion. Fortunately, a more integrated view of the person as body/mind/spirit is making inroads among some formerly strictly allopathic healers (Remen, 1994).
18. This is more impressionistic, but naturopaths are, in my view, highly ethically developed. The personal and professional ethics of the naturopaths interviewed embody the Golden Rule, which puts them at or near Kohlberg’s Stage 6 or even 7. Whereas some health professionals who work with cancer patients often state that they themselves would never allow chemotherapy to be done to them (Walters, 1993), naturopaths would never prescribe anything that, in principle, they would not prescribe for themselves. One naturopath specifically stated that he treats patients as he would want to be treated. This means, beyond doing no harm, taking the time necessary to know a patient’s condition in full detail, charging relatively modest fees (even offering several hours a week for free phone-in consultations), providing a supportive, non-intimidating, environmentally correct atmosphere for consultations/ treatments, and treating the patient as a partner in the healing process. Furthermore, he never considers a patient hopeless or terminal; several times he stated ,”I never give up; I’ll always look for something else that might work.” This hope-engendering attitude on the part of the healer can of itself have a curative effect (Walters, 1993).
One naturopath, speaking of allopathic physicians, considered most of them individually to be pretty ethical people. He observed, however, that while most are ethical, idealistically motivated people when they enter medical school, they typically become entrapped by the system, and emerge ethically lower than when they arrived. In short, he feels that the governing institutions reinforce a conventional and even self-serving preconventional morality.
Furthermore, naturopaths are quite politically progressive. Case after case was shown or told me, revealing how the allopathy-oriented AMA, in concert with the pharmaceutical companies, the FDA, and the “cancer industry” has blocked safe, effective, inexpensive treatment alternatives for cancer and other disorders because they would interfere with power and profits (Walters, 1993). The naturopaths interviewed did not put profit and power ahead of helping people. A small, but illustrative example: One naturopath told me he was about to write a letter of support to a Vermont senator who was trying to keep soda machines out of the public schools, and was as a result getting political flak from some of the powerful cola companies.
Despite the above critique of allopathy, even die-hard naturopaths admit that the two modes of healing are complementary. For accidents and other crisis situations, allopathy is a necessity although even a broken bone, after setting, can benefit from mineral supplements. Given that naturopathic and allopathic healing are both necessary, one inevitable conclusion must be drawn: Aside from crisis situations, naturopathy ought to be the healing method of choice, given that it reflects a developmentally more advanced mode of preventing, apprehending, and treating illness and promoting health than allopathy. If naturopathy fails, or if the situation is immediately life threatening, allopathic measures should of course be used. In America today, however, the reverse is largely the case. The naturopaths pointed out that the majority of their patients are (allopathic) medical failures, whose systems have been toxified by drugs and other allopathic interventions, thus making the naturopaths’ work all the harder and reducing the chances of success. (They frequently succeed anyway!) Worse, the majority of Americans do not even visit a naturopath or other alternative healer, either sooner, when prevention could save us all billions of dollars and much needless suffering, or later, after illness has commenced. Given the recent statistics, however, it would seem that this trend is changing. The crux of the problem is whether allopathy and this includes not merely individual physicians, but hospitals, medical associations and their journals, government, the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies, agribusiness, the media, and, finally, the mind-set of the average patient—can evolve beyond the level of formal operations and embrace the organismic, systemic view held by naturopathy and related holistic treatment approaches. Pragmatically, such a change will most likely only ensue from a grass roots withdrawal from allopathy, and statistically, this trend may well have begun. Such a transformation would bode well for the health of the American people and the planet.
The question remains: Why, if naturopathy is in the vast majority of instances the safer, developmentally more advanced treatment modality, do so few people seek out naturopaths et al, at least initially? Based on the interviews and my own observations, I would like to suggest, informally, one dozen likely factors:
1. The very fact that naturopathy does reflect a high level of development works against it. If only approximately 10% of the population reaches postconventional, postformal stages of development (Miller & Cook-Greuter, 1994), then the difficulties for the other 90% ought to be obvious (see #16 above).
2. Allopathic treatment, in the short run at least, is far easier. The allopathic doctor promises to take care of the patient through a “magic bullet” (drugs and surgery), while not demanding much in the way of lifestyle changes. Naturopathy is far more demanding, insisting on extensive dietary and lifestyle changes not many people are willing to make unless they feel they have no other choice. How many people would give up coffee, red meat, milk, ice cream, cake, candy, fried food, alcohol, soft drinks, salt, white flour, cigarettes, and Cool Whip if they did not have to?
3. Similarly, the demand to be responsible for one’s health can be threatening to those who have grown accustomed to relinquishing control to experts. One naturopath spoke of people’s “fear of self-empowerment.”
4. Naturopathic healing takes time and patience, which are sorely lacking in a population accustomed to instant results. Who wants to hear that it takes several years to fully regenerate?
5. Often, as the process of detoxification transpires, the patient will temporarily feel worse before they feel better. Some patients may lose their motivation to continue or even begin when faced with this likelihood.
6. Initially, naturopathy may cost more. The patient typically has to spend hundreds of dollars on an initial visit, supplements, special foods, and possibly a juicer, and none of this is as yet covered by medical insurance. In the long run, of course, good health pays off, but the start up cost of a changed lifestyle may inhibit many patients.
7. Aside from cost or difficulty, people, simply put, have ingrained habits that are difficult to modify. People whose main source of grain is wheat will probably balk at being told to avoid it in favor of a more diverse assortment of healthier but less popular grains like quinoa, spelt, kamut, amaranth, etc. People used to orange juice and coffee in the morning will find it hard to forego them. And how many of us are used to making/drinking fresh vegetable juices?
8. Most Americans have been conditioned from birth to view allopathic doctors as Godlike, and this childish projection tends to linger on, affecting even postformal level adults in subtle ways. Berger & Luckmann (1966) have noted that through a process of “sedimentation” we tend to see the conventional manner of doing things as somehow “natural” and correct, all other ways appearing somehow deviant and suspect—despite the fact that the alternatives may in fact be safer and more effective.
9. The medical industry, abetted by the media, has reinforced the belief system noted above, and presents natural healing as weird, fraudulent, primitive, something technology has outgrown, etc. As should be clear from the preceding analysis, there is no factual or logical basis for perpetuating this image of naturopathy and other holistic healing modalities, yet the image persists.
10. Social pressure from spouses, friends, allopathic physicians, etc., is another factor. Who wants to risk social stigmatization as a “health nut,” for following the naturopathic regime?
11. We live in a country bewitched by high technology, and allopathy is, if nothing else, high tech. It’s very hard for us to imagine that an acupuncturist taking a patient’s pulse, or a naturopath using iridology, may be better able to diagnose a host of specific problems and systemic imbalances than a hospital with its super-expensive computerized gadgets. It’s perhaps even harder to swallow the fact that, while we spend billions in the “war on cancer” that we somehow never win, herbs growing wild in North America have been demonstrated to have a curative effect on cancer and other degenerative diseases (Walters, 1993).
12. Finally, many people do not seek out naturopaths and other alternatives because they do not know they even exist. There are at least as many allopathic physicians working in the small New Hampshire town where I am writing as there are naturopaths in the entire state! Due to the monopolistic control of organized allopathic medicine, the lack of media exposure, and lack of advertising, there is all too often a consequent lack of knowledge of holistic alternatives. It was stunning and bewildering to learn that as many as twenty eight alternative treatments for cancer exist (Walters, 1993), yet the majority of Americans remain unaware of these options.
I could possibly add a thirteenth reason, one which sums up most of the foregoing discussion: Allopathy is consistent with the contemporary mechanistic, dominator (Eisler, 1987) worldview subscribed to by the majority of Westerners today, while naturopathy is not. It is the contention of this essay that naturopathy reflects a higher, more unified, more life enhancing worldview. Naturopathy and other holistic healing modalities will probably not become more widely accepted until the underlying weltanschauung itself changes. There are hopeful signs that this may indeed be occurring.
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Sternberg, R. (1984). Higher-order reasoning in postformal operational thought. In M. Commons; F. Richards & C. Armon (Eds.), Beyond formal operations: Late adolescent and adult cognitive development (pp. 74-91). New York: Praeger.
Vasudev, J. (1994). Ahimsa, justice, and the unity of life: Postconventional morality from an Indian perspective. In M. Miller & S. Cook-Greuter (Eds.), Transcendence and mature thought in adulthood (pp. 237-255). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
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End of Part Two. This article was provided specially for readers of NaturopathicHealth.net
Copyright ©Dr. Joel Funk. All Rights Reserved.
Joel Funk, Ph.D.
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