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It began in Europe

Read about how naturopathic medicine has evolved over the centuries from philosophical thought to contemporary practice.
An image of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) who contributed to the development of holism based on his work in metaphysics.
© Courtesy of Pixabay 2023.

While naturopathic medicine is more contemporary and has been shaped and influenced over the last 200 years, many modalities and philosophical frameworks have been used in various forms as society has progressed.

For thousands of years, before the contemporary evolution of naturopathic medicine, the approach to health was through the use of compounds found in nature and through the philosophical thought of many famous Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, and Hippocrates. Hippocrates, for example, is considered the father of medicine. His approach to health was based on using natural treatments and the idea of preventing disease and illness. He valued the skills and knowledge covered in conventional medicine, such as understanding the human body Kleisiaris et al., 2014.

Hippocrates – the father of holism?

Hippocrates also believed in the laws of nature and that treating the whole person was the best approach to care. These and many other thoughts from philosophical thinkers of the time laid the foundations for developing naturopathic philosophy. For example, how Hippocrates viewed health and treating the whole person contributed to the naturopathic philosophy of holism and vitalism. Other Greek philosophers also contributed to the foundations of the profession, such as Plato, who contributed to the knowledge of holism as a naturopathic philosophy that recognises all aspects of a person’s life that contributes to health and disease. Aristotle also contributed to the philosophy of holism. You may have heard of his famous quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Aristotle and his contribution to vitalism and holism

As a philosophical thinker, Aristotle explored areas in metaphysics that supported knowledge of holism and vitalism, mainly through his emphases that every system and being must be examined in its complete form and not from a singular perspective. Through further development and understanding of holism, the naturopathic profession recognises the importance of the functional, psychological, structural, spiritual, emotional, and social aspects that can profoundly impact health. The use of holism may be reflected in the clinical assessment and diagnostic processes and how naturopaths approach and treat patients from this perspective.

Further, Aristotle’s intellectual inquiry also explored vitalism, whereby it has been proposed that living beings have an energy source, often referred to as a soul, vital force, spirit, energy, prana, life force or Chi, as described in different cultures. The understanding at that time was that a person’s human body and energy or vital force could not be separate, which supported the concept of holism. This nature of being has been accepted in naturopathic medicine for centuries. It continues to be one of the central philosophical concepts when considering the best individual approach of clinical care and treatments for patients.

As time progressed, many other philosophical thinkers contributed to developing and advancing naturopathic philosophy. Much of the historical development of naturopathic medicine came from philosophical thinkers, with further developments occurring during the last 200-250 years.

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Fundamentals of Naturopathic Medicine

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