Naturopath, Naturopathic Doctor? Potato, Pah-tah-to?

Is there a difference between the terms naturopath and naturopathic doctor/physician? 

Yes, legally there are. The term physician is legally regulated - without a license to practice medicine, one cannot call themselves a physician. In the state of Oregon, I am able to call myself a physician because I have a license to practice medicine there. In Indiana, naturopathic medicine is not yet licensed (the INANP is working on it!), so I call myself a naturopathic doctor (ND). Because of this lack of legal regulation, anyone can call themselves a naturopath. 

Is this a problem?

Yes and no. Most people do not understand the difference between a naturopath and naturopathic doctor/physician, especially in states that do not regulate or license naturopathic physicians. The fundamental difference is education and training. NDs who are licensed attend a 4-year medical school where they learn to be a primary care physician. Naturopaths usually attend a correspondence or online course and do not learn how to diagnose and treat disease and usually do not do direct patient care supervised by licensed providers. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians has a great FAQ page if you want more details about education and training.

Bottom Line

If you are seeking the support of a natural health practitioner, make sure they have the training and experience to address your needs not just effectively but also safely. A naturopath may be a great fit if you need general support and do not have complex health conditions. Any practitioner needs to understand what situations they can safely support health and wellness and when referral to a licensed provider is necessary. Since I cannot legally diagnose disease in Indiana, I require anyone seeking my services to be under the care of a primary care physician.