Julien Henzelin tells us what’s changed in alternative medicine and explains why it’s time we saw it as truly complementary, working hand in hand with conventional medicine for the benefit of everyone.
Alternative and complementary medicine has evolved significantly in recent decades, and it can no longer be dismissed as an outsider. The numbers speak for themselves: around the world, 100,000 practicing naturopaths see 5.5 million patients a month. In Switzerland alone, more than 30% of the population uses alternative and complementary medicine on a regular basis and more than 50% does so at least occasionally. This popularity can partly be explained by the explosion in chronic diseases – such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or obesity – over the last three decades. Many of them correlate with modern lifestyles and factors like stress, nutrition and pollution, and as such they require a more holistic treatment. At the same time, patients have changed: many people crave a return to something simple and more connected to nature, and naturopathy offers just that.
Naturopathy is a global medical system that is closely linked to nature. It takes a holistic view of a person’s health – physical, psycho-emotional, mental, spiritual, social and environmental – in order to better understand the cause of disease. In practice, this means that naturopaths spend time listening to patients to see their illnesses in a broader context. In contrast, pressures on our health systems often don’t allow this in conventional care. Alternative medicine’s holistic approach also has benefits for the healthcare system. As patients make healthier lifestyle choices and learn to manage their stress or nutrition better, they are less likely to rely on conventional medicine for more complex care later in life.
The complementary nature of the two disciplines is becoming increasingly accepted in Switzerland. Part of this shift has been the creation of a federal diploma in naturopathy in 2015 to guarantee a unified, high quality of treatment. The framework ensures that naturopaths have 716 hours of training in conventional medicine, and it has seen more and more medical schools include an introduction to complementary medicine in their programmes. In doing so, it has not only made Switzerland a leading example on regulation, but it has also helped move naturopathy away from being a wellness profession and towards a health profession.