Your Health Questions Answered: What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

Most people recognize that familiar “MD” after a doctor’s name as proof that they have been educated and trained in accredited colleges and passed all the necessary tests to practice medicine. But MDs aren’t the only kind of doctor. There are many types of doctors, including some that may be better suited to your needs. For example, a licensed naturopathic doctor may be effective for people seeking a more holistic approach to wellness. These doctors have the initials “ND” following their name.

MDs aren’t the only kind of doctor. A licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) may be effective for people seeking a more holistic approach to wellness. Click To Tweet


Naturopathic medicine isn’t new. The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC), who is recognized as the “father of medicine,” developed the concept of vis medicatrix naturae, or the “healing power of nature.” Naturopathic medicine also has roots in the healing practices of many cultures around the world, including Taoist (Chinese), Ayurvedic (Indian), and other traditions.

In the U.S. the introduction of this form of medicine dates back over 100 years when Dr. Benedict Lust founded the American School of Naturopathy in New York. The concept of an integrative approach to wellness quickly began gaining traction. However, around the mid-20th century, the nation underwent a pharmaceutical revolution, transforming conventional medical and psychiatric care into veritable pill dispensaries that largely ignored natural therapies.

Although the philosophy of naturopathic medicine is grounded in the principles of healing found in nature, modern naturopathic medicine is science-based. Hundreds of thousands of scientific studies help us understand why and how to use certain substances, plant, mineral, or nutritional approaches to help treat someone who is suffering. Adding a science-based curriculum to the wisdom of healing traditions has advanced the field of naturopathic medicine into the modern age.

In recent decades, there’s been a backlash and people are seeking alternatives to conventional medicine and psychiatry. More people than ever are coming back to the realization that health and well-being are within their own power and are seeking naturopathic care in an effort to empower their own self-healing.


A licensed ND is a doctor who has been educated and trained at naturopathic medical colleges. Like traditional doctors, licensed naturopaths are trained in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of chronic and acute health conditions. But they differ from conventional doctors in several key areas. The practice of naturopathic medicine is rooted in 6 principles of healing:

  1. Improve the body’s self-healing mechanisms. Drawing on Hippocrates’ concept of the healing power of nature, naturopathic doctors aim to improve a patient’s innate ability to heal.
  2. Identify and treat the root cause. Rather than simply masking symptoms, naturopathic doctors aim to identify and treat the root causes of disease.
  3. Do no harm. Therapeutic actions should aid in the body’s (and brain’s) ability to heal itself. Therapies that are intended to mask symptoms but that don’t treat the root cause and that may cause side effects are deemed harmful and are typically avoided. This means that rather than prescribe pharmaceuticals as a first line of defense the way many conventional doctors do, NDs opt for the least toxic, natural solutions whenever possible.
  4. Treat the whole person. Licensed NDs take a whole-person approach to care, looking at the brain, body, mind, and spirit.
  5. The doctor as teacher. As part of the healing process, NDs seek to empower the patient with information and tools to optimize their overall health and wellness. Developing a strong interpersonal relationship with each patient is a fundamental part of the journey to health and wellness.
  6. For doctors of naturopathic medicine, preventing illness is the ultimate goal. NDs develop personalized protocols for patients to promote a healthy lifestyle.

It’s important to understand that licensed naturopathic doctors are different from “traditional naturopaths.” Those who are traditional naturopaths don’t have the same rigorous education and training through an accredited naturopathic medical school, nor have they been licensed.


In general, licensed NDs typically have over 4,100 hours of instruction, have graduated from a 4-year doctoral degree program (accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education), and 1,200 hours of supervised, hands-on clinical training. Similar to conventional medical schools, the curriculum includes anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, and physiology. Students may also take courses in homeopathy, botanical medicine, lifestyle management, nutrition, psychiatry, and other areas.

To become licensed, graduates of a 4-year naturopathic medical college must pass a national board exam called the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX). Once licensed, naturopathic doctors can work in private practice, hospitals, and other medical settings.


Depending on the state where they are located, licensed NDs may prescribe pharmaceuticals, order lab tests, order diagnostic imaging (including brain imaging), and order food sensitivity tests. They may also administer vaccinations and perform minor surgeries. If they are located in a state where prescribing privileges are not allowed, NDs can refer the patient to an MD to write prescriptions.

As a general rule, naturopathic doctors develop treatment plans involving the most effective solutions that are the least likely to cause harmful side effects. Improving the body and brain’s self-healing mechanisms is one of the basic tenets of any naturopathic treatment plan. This may include dietary recommendations, nutritional supplements, homeopathy, non-invasive therapies, counseling, and other natural therapeutics.


Some NDs specialize in psychiatric care, and they take a body-mind-spirit approach to mental health. NDs are an ideal fit at Amen Clinics, which shares a philosophy of using the most effective, least toxic solutions for patients.

At Amen Clinics, the naturopathic doctors on staff take this approach one step further, looking at the body, mind, spirit, and brain. The brain imaging work at Amen Clinics clearly shows that the physical functioning of the brain is linked to mental illness or psychological well-being. In diagnosing and treating psychiatric illnesses, NDs adhere to the same principles they follow for physical health conditions—enhancing self-healing, identifying and treating root causes, avoiding harmful substances, taking a whole-person approach, educating the patient, and preventing illness.

If you’re struggling with mental health issues that aren’t responding to traditional treatment or you’re interested in a more holistic approach to care, Amen Clinics is here for you. Amen Clinics has several naturopathic doctors on staff, including Kabran Chapek, ND (president of the Psychiatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians), Elissa Mendenhall, ND, and Julie Brush, ND.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I would love a recommendation of a naturopathic doctor in my area if you have a list. I am in the Toledo Ohio area. I know there are some in and about Cleveland but I’m hoping for one closer. Any information you might have would be most appreciated. Thank you.

    Comment by Patsy Forrester — December 28, 2020 @ 6:32 AM

  2. Is there ANY neuropathic doctor out there that would accept ANY major medical insurance?

    Maybe the primary reasons people “prefer” MD over ND are:
    1) network of NDs is very limited
    2) You have to pay OOP (out of pocket) to NDs pretty much 100% while MDs typical services are covered at lwast 50% or even in full in many cases (depending on insurance).

    So here is a trivial question… Who is benefited from such situation where only wealthy population can afford an upscale NDs with natural and human approach in place of MDs with harsh commercial inhuman approach?!

    Comment by Raisa Postoronka — December 28, 2020 @ 8:20 AM

  3. Please recommend N.D. practitioners in the Naples, Florida area. Thank you.
    Dee Schwartz

    Comment by Deonne Schwartz — December 28, 2020 @ 8:42 AM

  4. I agree with Raisa P’s questions and comments about who is benefitted when only the rich and upscale can afford NP’s and holistic care? I ran up credit card debt paying for an Ayurvedic treatment and a “functional medicine” approach to my pulmonary sarcoidosis and finally had to go the traditional western medicine route when my lungs began collapsing. You don’t have to pay for some fancy brain clinic to learn that nutrition plays a major part in one’s overall well-being! It’s unfortunate that the two approaches don’t or won’t compliment each other.

    Comment by Toni Sanchez — December 28, 2020 @ 9:49 AM

  5. I have a practice in Naples, Florida as well as Tampa, Florida. I have done a Fellowship with Dr. Robert Melillo in Functional Neurology and certified in the Melillo Method. I am a NMD and have training in Aging and Regenerative Medicine and Functional Diagnostic Medicine.

    Comment by Dr M Kelly Miller — December 28, 2020 @ 11:07 AM

  6. There is an N.D. in the Detroit area – Bingham Farms which is adjacent to Southfield.

    Comment by JM — December 28, 2020 @ 11:26 AM

  7. Raisa P and Toni…. many insurance companies pay Out of Network costs. Just need to ask. Also, Amen Clinics has people to help you with submitting claims.. they just do not do it for you.

    Comment by Joan — December 28, 2020 @ 1:29 PM

  8. Is there an NMD recommended in Miami Florida?

    Comment by Claudia — December 28, 2020 @ 1:50 PM

  9. I am looking for a ND in SE PA in an area that is somewhat close to my home. I’m a 30 yr TBI/coma survivor having issues with lack of ability to sleep restfully. I had been on ADs for mast of the time & weaned myself off when my Psych. retired & pushed off to someone else’s care who didn’t listen to me. Have tried many supplemental cocktails & eat primarily whole foods. I just want to be able to sleep more than 3-5 hrs/nightly for optimal physical/mental /cognitive health. Thanks so much, Pat

    Comment by Pat Strenk — December 28, 2020 @ 2:12 PM

  10. In terms of insurance and NDs – here in Vermont most NDs take insurance because insurance companies are required to pay us the same rate as they would for comparable services from a MD. But my colleagues in other states report a very different story, receiving checks of $2-$3 for half hour visits sometimes. Most NDs are very community-minded and would love to be able to work with less financially advantaged people, but they typically graduate with $200,000 in student loans and live in poverty if they accept insurance. This is a systemic problem, not greed on the part of NDs. If you would like it to change, speak to your insurance company.

    Comment by AVC — December 28, 2020 @ 3:22 PM

  11. Thank you AVC for explaining the specifics of “insurance coverage”. I am a retired ICU RN and experienced the limitations of Blue Cross and Blue Sheild Insurance while receiving treatment for debilitating acute Lyme Disease and Coinfections which affected my nervous system and adrenal function. I was unable to maintain a blood pressure above 66/40 unless I was flat in bed – for several years. I had intractable pain, was cachectic and lost 25 lbs (down to 90 lbs). Infectious Disease docs at the University Hospital in Philadelphia inserted a tunneled subclavian IV line for daily antibiotic therapy X 1 month. This was covered by insurance but did nothing for my recovery. They had nothing else to offer.
    2 MD’s, my Primary MD and the Lyme Specialist we found after 6 months, both practiced Integrative Medicine. They treated me over the next 5 years and saved my life. The treatments which enabled me to speak and walk again were not covered by insurance. We sold our home to keep me alive. We spent the past 7 years paying off ~ $150K for the effective medical care I received that was not covered by insurance. I was worth it. I never blamed the doctors for the fact that BC & BS did not cover treatments that were effective. I would definitely go to a Naturopathic Doctor! They have more “tools” in their “toolbox” to treat the root causes of illness.
    Good article! Thanks Dr. Amen. And thank you for your ongoing work in neuropsychiatry through SPECT Scans. It has made all the difference in addressing my husband’s diagnosis of “ADD” by University Hospital Neurology Testing, which wasn’t ADD at all – but Traumatic Brain Injury seen on SPECT Scan! He has been making marked improvements since visiting your clinic near Washington DC. We are grateful.

    Comment by EiLL — December 29, 2020 @ 1:06 PM

  12. Yes, I would greatly appreciate some information regarding a ND in my area! I live at Canyon Lake, TX 78133. My Primary Care Dr., is located in Spring Branch, TX I was recently in a serious car accident, and was struck by a drunk driver on November 18, 2020. I am continuing to have pain, specifically “nerve pain” related to this accident! I Greatly Appreciate Your Help In This Matter!! Thank you!

    Comment by Pam Luddeke — January 6, 2021 @ 12:07 PM

  13. Hello Pam, thank you for reaching out. We’ll contact you directly, and we look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 6, 2021 @ 12:58 PM

  14. Would you please recommend a Naturopathic licensed physician who specializes in psychiatric issues. I live in the western suburbs of Chicago. And Chicago is ok too

    Comment by Lisa Slad — January 7, 2021 @ 1:57 PM

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