Because complimentary and alternative therapies are frequently requested by patients seeking mental health counseling, the roles of mental health professionals are drastically changing. Whereas a psychotherapist may not have discussed nutrition, herbs or lifestyle habits with a client in the past, it has become more commonplace. Psychiatrists and medical doctors prescribing drugs have had to learn about drug/herb interactions in order to protect their patients.
Naturopathic psychotherapists continually address all aspects of a patient's lifestyle, including, diet, nutrition, exercise and self-care, whereas many traditional psychotherapists do not. This begs the question of whether a psychotherapist is enabling poor health habits by not addressing them. For example, what should a psychotherapist tell a depressed diabetic patient with heart disease who never exercises and eats primarily fast foods?
Believe it or not, there are two schools of thought on this; the first being that the therapist should stick strictly to psychological issues. The second approach involves discussing with the patient the advantages of exercise and diet with regards to managing depression, diabetes, and heart disease. Even if the patient has heard it all before from a medical doctor, exploring the patient's resistance to change with a psychotherapist seems completely appropriate.
One of the cardinal rules in psychotherapy is that the therapist avoid a dual relationship with the client in the way of a secondary relationship, such as a personal or professional relationship. This is entirely different from utilizing other modes of healing in psychotherapy. When combining naturopathic methods (like nutrition and herbal medicine) with psychotherapy, the therapist is integrating naturopathy and nutrition into psychotherapy, just as you would integrate other therapeutic approaches.
By definition, the naturopathic psychotherapist is holistic, treating the individual as a whole person; mind, body and spirit. Essential elements in a naturopathic treatment model include diet, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and effective support systems. Individuals who adopt a naturopathic approach to emotional problems often become healthy in other areas of life as well.
Because naturopathic psychotherapy is holistic, it is concerned with how the mind and body work together to obtain balance. A naturopathic psychotherapist seeks to remove the causes of disease, whether psychological, physiological or environmental. The patient is considered to be composed of a mind, body and spirit that work together in concert. These factors act and react upon each other, producing either health or disease.
Just as the naturopathic physician believes that each person has an inherent ability to heal, so does the naturopathic psychotherapist. By combining psychotherapy with naturopathic methods, the naturopathic psychotherapist often uses psychoeducation to teach practices that can help to prevent further problems.
The primary focus in naturopathic psychotherapy is to determine the underlying factors that may have predisposed a patient to developing a mental health problem. Genetics, nutrient deficiencies, toxic exposures, physiological disease, and lifestyle are all considered. Thorough evaluation of these factors allows for individualized therapy to address underlying causes. In addition to getting a detailed history, the naturopathic psychotherapist may recommend a physical exam and other laboratory tests.
Another goal of naturopathic psychotherapy is to optimize the patient's quality of life. For those undergoing traditional treatments, such as conventional medications, the naturopathic psychotherapist works to reduce or eliminate side effects by recommending diet and lifestyle changes to optimize health and encouraging patients to be active participants in their own care.
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