When a patient enters the teaching clinic with an acute presentation, the natural reaction of student clinicians is to think of a remedy that will palliate the symptoms they are experiencing. We want our patients to feel better, and we certainly do not want them to suffer.
Recently I’ve become more aware of how this method of treating the symptoms rather than treating the cause is so fundamentally different from what I have been taught in school. In certain situations, it is very appropriate to prescribe something that will give the patient immediate relief. But is it always the right thing to do? The example I am thinking of is treating Springtime allergies. Patients come to see their Physicians wanting some form of relief for itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose or postnasal drip. It’s natural to say try this tea, tincture or supplement to help you feel better.
This approach of treating the symptoms is described as “green allopathy”. Since my first year, I have heard this phrase floating around, describing a form of practicing. I didn’t quite understand it’s meaning or how it could even apply to Naturopathic Medicine until now. I believed that Naturopathic Physicians could never practice medicine in this symptom based way; we treat the whole person after all.
To truly look at the patient from the standpoint of Naturopathic Medicine would involve identifying the reason their body is having such a strong reaction to seasonal change. To understand what parts of their diet and lifestyle might aggravate seasonal allergies or if their allergies are a sign of a deeper aggravation. And yes, it is true that we aren’t writing prescriptions for pharmaceuticals, however when we treat a symptom of season allergies, we are still prescribing based only on symptom presentation.
As a student, I hope that I approach each of my patients in the teaching clinic with the intention to treat the whole person and I hope that I think critically and clearly about why they are experiencing “symptoms”. My training has given me so many tools to help in acute situations, but at the end of the day, the problem will return unless I take a step back and look at my patient as a whole.