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Unifying Principles of Naturopathic Medicine Origins and Definitions

Pamela Snider, ND; Jared Zeff, ND, LAc

In 1986, the newly formed (1985) American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) began the task of developing a unified professional organization under the leadership of James Sensenig, ND (president) and Cathy Rogers, ND (vice president). Four tasks were developed and committees with specific chairs were delegated: (1) Accreditation of Naturopathic schools through governmental accreditation bodies (Joseph Pizzorno, ND), (2) Standard independent national licensure examination (Ed Smith, ND), (3) A peer-reviewed scientific journal (Peter D’ Adamo, ND). The fourth task was the Select Committee on the Definition of Naturopathic Medicine, appointed to develop a new unifying definition of naturopathic medicine, co-chaired by Pamela Snider, ND and Jared Zeff, ND with committee members Bruce Milliman, ND, Kevin Wilson, ND, William Wulsin, ND, and Peter Glidden, ND. 

A consensus on naturopathic medicine

The Select Committee on the Definition of Naturopathic Medicine succeeded in its 3-year effort, culminating in the unanimous adoption by AANP’s House of Delegates (HOD) of the first, unifying comprehensive, consensus definition of naturopathic medicine in 1989 at the annual AANP convention held at Rippling River, OR. From 1987-1989. The Select Committee led the US profession in an iterative, progressive process of inclusive, profession-wide input, review, classification of agreements and disagreements, negotiation, revision, the publication of serial drafts, and repeated review. The first point of unanimous consensus was to define the profession by its principles, not by its modalities. 

A group endeavor

The Committee sought a defining statement that represented the profession’s highest watermark, the best of its common thinking and aspirations vs. a mediocre and less controversial statement. Conflicts were acknowledged, publicized in open meetings, and elsewhere, then negotiated. A superlative common language was sought as opposed to settling on ‘lower level common denominators’ in language. Robust arguments and passionate discussions were encouraged rather than suppressed; all with the aim of agreement and codifying the best possible statement, which was achieved. Group meetings were held at conventions, schools, and elsewhere; thousands of written inputs and telephone calls were invited, received, and organized, shaping the evolving drafts and interim reports to the profession and to AANP. Naturopathy’s historical principles and scope of practice were researched; there was no record of a national unifying definition within a governing body, formally representing the profession through a stakeholder vote. Canadian engagement was welcome, robust, and influential. 1 

An important part of the process was that all conflicts were negotiated in open meetings. The final meeting held to complete the Definition Position Paper addressed two conflicts about specific language. These conflicts were delegated by the co-chairs to an external mediator, who facilitated the profession’s organizational and committee leaders in coming to final consensus, resolving these remaining and potentially divisive polarities concerning language. 

Based in definitive principles

A fundamental and unique aspect of this Definition was its basis in definitive principles, rather than in therapeutic modalities as the defining characteristics of the profession. Until this point the only extant national definition available was through the US Department of Labor and Industries—a modality-based statement. When AANP’s House of Delegates (HOD) passed the Resolution formally adopting the Definition of Naturopathic Medicine Position Paper the HOD asserted and ratified that these principles would continue to evolve with the progress of knowledge, and should be formally reexamined by the profession as needed, perhaps every 5 years. 

When AANP’s House of Delegates (HOD) passed the Resolution formally adopting the Definition of Naturopathic Medicine Position Paper the HOD asserted and ratified that these principles would continue to evolve with the progress of knowledge, and should be formally reexamined by the profession as needed, perhaps every 5 years.14-19 From 1996 – 2000 four additional principles were proposed to the HOD for consideration. None were adopted, however they are valued and used in teaching.  

AANP’s House of Delegates formally reaffirmed the 5-page Definition of Naturopathic Medicine Position Paper and Principles in 2000 and 2011 by House vote, adding one phrase: “prescription medication,” to the Practice section. The Position Paper was formally reviewed in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 by HOD’s Position Paper Review Committee with no changes recommended. 15 

A naturopathic consistency

According to a World Naturopathic Federation (WNF) Report in 2015, “as shown in Chart 3, the naturopathic principles codified in 1989 are very consistent across all countries that practice naturopathy / naturopathic medicine.” 2 The WNF 2015 Survey reports an average 94.16 % concurrence with the original 1989 AANP Definition of Naturopathic Medicine Position Papers six Principles statements in 42 countries as an indicator of an underlying global sense of professional unity of identity, despite the profession’s ongoing debates. 

The authors believe that it is the investment in transparency, inclusivity and the “long time listening” within the profession which surfaced the deepest patterns of the profession’s agreement. Ensuring a forum for negotiating what appeared at times to be intractable conflicts and, which in every case, led to a positive outcome in language, birthed a well-crafted unifying and timeless statement. In that sense, they were not authors of the document but midwives of a process of re-establishing the profession’s identity through its principles, as a platform for rebuilding all aspects of Naturopathic medicine. 

The authors acknowledge and thank the thousands of voices in North America and around the world who find resonance woven through diversity. Though timeless, these principles must continue to be allowed to evolve with the progress of our knowledge and our understanding.  


References and Permissions

Excerpt adapted from: Unifying Principles of Naturopathic Medicine Origins and Definitions, Integrative Medicine Clinicians Journal. Snider, P & Zeff, J. • Vol. 18, No. 4 • August 2019 • Used with permission. 

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  1. Benedict Lust’s historical journals including The Naturopath and Herald of Health and other individually authored writings document previous perspectives and discussion among Naturopaths of that time. (see In Their Own Words series by Sussanna Czeranko, ND Ed.). 
  2. Lloyd, I., Wardle, J., Parker, T., Hausser, T., Cottingham, T. World Naturopathic Federation Report. June 2015.

Pg. 12-14.