5 more key questions to ask your naturopath

It’s crucial that you give due consideration to the people you choose to trust with your most precious health. The importance of a good relationship where you feel safe and confident that your naturopath (or any healthcare provider) has nothing but your best interests at heart cannot be underestimated if you are to achieve your health goals.

It’s important to take a moment to think about the questions you might have when you are choosing your healthcare provider. I first wrote 5 questions to ask your naturopath a few years ago and now I’ve added a few more questions to the list.

How do you keep your naturopathic skills and knowledge up to date?

As a member of the highly regarded NHAA professional association (and some other bodies), I am required to complete ongoing professional development every year.

Our grasp of the human body and how we stay healthy is changing on a daily basis. When I completed my degree (Bachelor of Health Science in 2006), the area of genetics was only just emerging. Likewise, the effects of chemicals on health were only just starting to be questioned. These are just two areas where new research is growing at a rapid rate. The interconnection of the gut and brain is another relatively new area of health research and we are developing a greater understanding of mind/body medicine.

So our understanding of what underlies illness deepens every week, every month, every year.

Research in the areas of testing and analysis of test results is also growing at a rapid rate. Compared to when I completed my degree, we have some wonderful testing options to better understand your biochemistry and how your body is working (or not) and we have greater understanding of the significance of test results for optimal wellness and not just sickness.

New nutrients (and new foods), new herbal remedies and treatments are becoming available in Australia every year. Some of them are fabulous and others might be more built on marketing hype than genuine benefits.

So with all these ever changing health developments, ask your naturopath how they keep up to date. I spend an inordinate amount of time attending courses and conferences (just ask my partner!) and reading journals so I can better understand why you are unwell and the best way to help you.

What can you, as a naturopath, offer that a doctor may not?

One of the biggest things we can offer is TIME. Time to listen to you, time to delve, time to find out what you want to achieve, time to put the pieces together and look at you as a whole and unique person who is more than your symptoms. I set aside 90 minutes for our first consultation and sometimes an hour or more for subsequent sessions. I never want you to feel you are being rushed or haven’t had a chance to tell me all the things that are on your mind. By allowing that time, I also avoid having a waiting room full of people so you don’t have to feel guilty about taking your time.

Because we have this time, I also want to help you understand what is going on for you (joining the dots so-to-speak), explaining your test results and helping you to see how changes to your diet or lifestyle will make a difference. This often results in huge light-bulb moments for my clients which is just so exciting.

Another thing I do is help you develop some workable strategies to make changes in your diet or nutrition.

A large part of my degree was devoted to nutrition and the role of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the biochemistry of your body (i.e. how it works or fails to work when you are unwell). But more than that, you want someone who understands the context of your daily life and helps you work out how to eat for health in a way that is achievable and sustainable.

Not everyone has the time, skills or energy to source and prepare a “perfect” nutritious meal three times a day so making realistic dietary changes is critical to your success. Sending you off with instructions to “cut down on fats and eat more vegetables” just won’t cut it if you don’t know the how or why?

The same thing goes for lifestyle changes. There’s no point in being told “try to get more exercise and sleep”. I need to help you work out how to make that happen in the context of your already-busy life or it won’t happen and you’ll just feel worse.

A naturopath should also be highly trained in the particular modalities they use. (Mine are herbal medicine and nutritional medicine). It is critical that they understand the potential for interactions with any prescription medicine you might be taking. Herbal medicine can be extremely effective in many cases (often when there are no pharmaceutical alternatives) and regularly have less side-effects than some drugs.

A good naturopath will keep asking why? Why are you sick? Why are you getting those symptoms? The goal is to get to the root cause of your health problems so we can deal with them.

How long will it take to feel better?

This is a tough question to answer initially because until I get to know you and understand ALL of the things that have lead you to this point with your health it would be unfair of me to give you a number. I need to understand your diet, lifestyle, family history, work, travels, habits, prior testing and more in order to put together the jigsaw puzzle that is you. Only with all this insight and understanding, can I truly help you make deep and lasting changes to your health.

Many of my clients, have been unwell for many years before they come to see me. In reality, it will probably take us a couple of months to fully uncover the reasons you are unwell. Sometimes it’s more straightforward, and you will be feeling better within a few weeks.

And, of course, it depends to some extent on how able and committed you are to making changes. If you have been very unwell, we need to take into account your capacity for change (a very sick plant is not going to suddenly blossom just because we’ve thrown some fertilizer on it…Maybe it also needs water, soil, a different location and removal of pests before it will even begin to produce new buds).

Be wary of the practitioner that seems to be promising quick results (particularly if you have been very unwell for quite some time). I worry that sometimes, practitioners over-promise and under-deliver or create unrealistic expectations. It’s important that you and I agree on identifiable milestones and measures of improvement.

How often will I see you?

Again, this is a tough but important question to ask your naturopath, and it is one we will discuss and work out together. As a general rule, there will be a minimum of three visits over the first three to four weeks. This enables me to understand your issues, gather further data (testing etc.) and establish a treatment plan with you. Then it really depends on what that treatment plan involves. Sometimes, a monthly appointment is all that is warranted, but often weekly or fortnightly quick check-ins are best so that questions can be answered and progress can be fine-tuned as we go along.

How much will health consultations cost?

The investment for those first three appointments will be approximately $350. Subsequent appointments will generally be 30-45 minutes at a fee of $78.

It’s no secret that the cost of good quality nutritional and herbal supplements can add up. They aren’t covered by the PBS and they attract GST and the last thing you want to do is spend money on a shopping bag full of products. To some extent you do get what you pay for and there is a reason why some supplements have hugely different prices (fish oils come to mind).

Your naturopath should be able to put together a treatment plan that you are financially comfortable with and the more you can do to incorporate diet and lifestyle advice, the less you will need to rely on supplements. Sometimes, with a bit of organisation, it is possible to find fewer products to cover more bases. That’s why I don’t just use one brand of treatments, but pick the best available from all the major suppliers in Australia.

You should never feel pressured into taking treatments and you should always be told the purpose of the treatment, how you should benefit and how long treatment might be needed.

Of course, reassessment along the way will be vital and you should always feel comfortable asking those questions.

So, can your naturopath (or other healthcare provider) answer your questions to your satisfaction? Do you have any other questions you would add to that list?

Give yourself permission to ask these questions and make sure the answers sit well with you.

In this way, your journey to better health will get off to a great start.

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