By Michael Schanz, BINM President

It is a well accepted notion in marketing, that the lack of a strong and recognizable product identity can badly hamper its success. The same, no doubt, applies to a profession if it remains poorly defined over time. Particularly in the information age, clarity is paramount or redundancy may ensue.

To the extent that technology provides for increased opportunity, it can also result in instant failure if one’s key messages are not delivered in simple and relatable terms. Through confused messaging, one loses one’s audience quickly and this does appear to be at least an occasional problem in the naturopathic profession.

Naturopathy needs to adopt more of a “brand management” approach to ensure growing prevalence. At the same time, perhaps the profession should begin asserting that, because it has been around since “time immemorial”, it in fact, should be considered as representing the more “conventional approach”. Though it is rather obvious why this is not the case, is this one bold statement that would gain some PR traction? One wonders why, given the iatrogenic evidence against it, the medical profession still manages to dominate.   This is a David and Goliath question rooted in fund flows, but how long can money talk when patients increasingly seek real answers to their health and well-being.

As human consciousness develops, naturopathic medicine lands on the right side of history so the profession may want to display a greater sense of confidence. A communications strategy that combines the concept of mind, body, spirit with the “sustainability aspect” of the medicine needs to be emphasized. The need for a holistic naturopathic medical philosophy and practice fits right in, along with other environmental, economic and social sustainability issues of the day. More emphasis on this could be helpful in the naturopathic discourse.

As well, with what is sometimes a lack of sufficient focus on the importance of the body’s inherent ability to fight disease and related emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions, we emulate an approach from a medical industry that has proven to create more problems than it is able to solve. We are running behind the bandwagon yelling “we are better!”, but no one is listening. The profession would be well advised to change its strategy before the approaching green allopaths fill the vacuum.

The profession increasingly appears to subscribe to the belief that evidence based medicine is a panacea, perhaps because in the public’s eye, complexity equals credibility. However expounding more on the importance of clinical observation in a holistic setting may provide a greater sense of identity and clarity as to what really constitutes the profession, making it easier for the public to differentiate “what they are buying”. The jury is out on how evidence based medicine combines with holism to improve long term patient outcomes and until this is clear, focussing on the former may be counter productive. By excessively focussing on the science, naturopathic doctors risk confusing patients and encouraging the profession’s detractors who point to the sheer volume of study on their side as being enough to justify superiority.

We live in a world where the advancement of science, technology and a mad dash to treat symptoms are prioritized over holistic healing, though it is the latter which is rooted in the true human essence. Our energetic and spiritual bodies, though quite fundamental to a “human’s being” are automatically considered less important than our physical anatomy. In fact many in the profession think that the future lies in emphasizing evidence based aspects even more. To hang on to what appears to be the coat tails of medical science however, may compromise credibility, so a clear and public case needs to be made for how the traditional approach combines with the science to offer the most sustainable medicine.

Naturopathic medicine could use more of the “stick to the knitting” concept and articulate a message that is simple, relatable and reliable. A subtle paradigm shift may be underway as we “dust off the new to make way for the old” but generally accepted ideas die slowly and we need to encourage the process intelligently.

As the naturopathic profession increases its reliance on the science at the expense of mind, body and spirit, it forgets about the one intangible that holds it together and allows it to prosper. That is faith in (our) nature, in being authentic and remaining steadfast and sanguine as convictions are tested. If the profession does not believe, then neither will anybody else, so a bit more allegiance and fortitude are called for.

We need to remember that extrapolating existing trends to predict the future may not always work and though we see a growing trend towards a desire for more evidential backup, this trend may not persist. The question is, who is asking for it? There may be a greater and as yet subtle force of “constructive disruption” that is at work here and it may be driven by consumers wanting to ensure their long term health. This creates new opportunities for naturopathic doctors who clearly define their craft and remain true to the holistic approach to healing.

The medical profession as a whole is on a roller coaster ride and an increasingly important point of reference may well be rooted in each individual’s connection to the self and how this contributes to disease. There is much anecdotal evidence around to support this. The key to life lies in simple truths supplemented by logic, not the other way around and naturopathic medicine better than anybody represents that order. In addition, as we witness the democratization of knowledge through the internet, medical consumers will want to take more of their own health into their own hands and will be more influenced by clear and simple messaging. How the profession interprets and reacts to this potential shift will become critical in determining its future success or failure.

ND’s are supposed to understand and respect the essence of life and the extent to which they are able to transmit that in the most basic terms will provide an explanation that its public can understand. The tools that the profession provides its patients as they seek to track and improve their own health will win new converts. A certain aura of “intellectual arrogance” follows the medical profession and the naturopathic industry would be well advised not to jump on that bandwagon. Traditional medicine and its mind, body, spirit approach, more than any other, truly respects the patient as a holistic being and care should be taken not to lose that “competitive advantage”.

Medical science and technology is and will no doubt, continue to remain important but our addiction to left-brain thinking as a way of explaining the world will contribute less and less as we encounter increasing difficulty in marketing the medicine to those who seek something different. Evidence based medicine should remain part of naturopathy but it should not take over the driver’s seat. The profession needs to take the lead by explaining how the body’s vital force and self-healing ability works and it needs to provide the education that allows individuals to take more responsibility for their own health. The profession will only achieve the recognition that it deserves if it gets into the right line and taps into what the universe and its fountain of knowledge has to offer. Who really puts the science behind Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Osteopathy (as practiced in Canada and Europe) before the fact that it just works? The scientific angle may be an interesting question for a scientist to ask but is this one of the patients’ main concerns?

Where we have landed is as much a function of the profit motive as it is of the profession’s eagerness to be accepted as an equal. The problem is that this leaves it abiding by standards that are not its own. Whilst the profession’s science has relevance, it has muddled the message to the point where ND’s themselves have grown confused as to who they are and what they represent. The profession needs to stop meeting others on their battlefield and develop its own.

Clearly, there are present day imperatives which have to be met as more states and provinces prepare their runways for the profession but for those who are passionate about naturopathic medicine, there needs to be an understanding that a simple, consistent and easily explainable view of the world is a pre-requisite to comprehending some of the more intellectually challenging questions of the day. It needs however, to get off of its crutches and relearn how to run again. Otherwise, it risks leaving its students and patients “ahead”.