Healing the natural way

A floatation tank at the Floatation Centre in Halifax (Photo: Jillian Morgan)

By Jillian Morgan

Sarah Baillie was called a “witch doctor” when she first practiced naturopathic medicine in Nova Scotia.

She might not be stirring up a cauldron of wicked ingredients, but Baillie has some herbal remedies to soothe ailments.

Baillie has practiced naturopathic medicine for 17 years and now works at the Halifax Naturopathic Health Centre, specializing in women’s hormonal health.

Naturopathic doctors work to treat the whole body – not just a symptom. The core of their practice is preventive health care, says Baillie.

At the Halifax Naturopathic Health Centre in Halifax’s North End, doctors prescribe herbal medicine or nutritional supplements, as well as diet counselling, acupuncture, nutritional intravenous therapy and homeopathy.

Homeopathy is a treatment for disease in which small doses of plant, animal and mineral substances are administered. In larger amounts, these doses would produce similar symptoms of the disease in a healthy person.

“(Naturopathic doctors) are really good in that zone where people are starting to have symptoms but they may not have a diagnosis because it hasn’t progressed far enough,” says Baillie.

The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors says there are 1,875 of these professionals across Canada.

Sandra Murphy, a naturopathic doctor in Halifax and member of the Nova Scotia Association of Naturopathic Doctors – which has roughly 50 members – says naturopathic doctors typically complete a bachelor’s degree in a science field and go on to complete a degree in naturopathic medicine at one of Canada’s two accredited schools. Students are required to have completed classes in biology, biochemistry, math and calculus.

The Floatation Centre in Halifax is one of many local clinics which provide this form of health care. Although the centre’s focus is on floatation – participants float in a tub filled with 10-11 inches of water and 800 pounds of Epsom salts.

Floatation is intended to reduce stress and anxiety through sensory deprivation in a soundproof and light-less tank. Magnesium in the salt increases circulation, detoxifies and prevents cardiovascular disease.

“Natural medicine and floating is very empowering and it builds you up as a person because you’re taking control of your health. You’re being preventative as opposed to reactive,” says Lindsay MacPhee, owner of The Floatation Centre.

Patients fill out a 10-page intake form before an appointment with the centre’s naturopathic doctor. The initial consultation between a naturopathic doctor and a patient is an hour and half, in which the doctor dissects the information provided on the form to better understand the patient’s needs.

“We all need medical doctors as well, but when you are slotted in for 10-15 minutes with a doctor how are you supposed to really get to the root of it all?” says MacPhee.

Naturopathic medicine is intended as complementary and not as a replacement for traditional health care. Baillie says she can’t fix every health problem.

“In Nova Scotia, I am not able to order blood work, I’m not able to order an ultrasound, I’m not able to prescribe an antibiotic,” says Baillie.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario are the only provinces in Canada where naturopathic doctors can order blood work or prescribe medication. Nova Scotia is seeking to allow similar practices.

“It’s not a competition between the conventional system and us,” says Baillie. “The worlds really do combine. That’s best patient care.”

Many patients visit the Halifax Naturopathic Health Centre due to digestive health, but the centre also treats asthma, allergies, premenstrual and premenopausal symptoms, among other ailments. It will also see cancer patients to support their conventional treatment.

“One of our principles is ‘doctor as teacher.’ We’re not trying to be the person you depend on all the time to make you well we want you to depend on yourself to make you well and we’ll give you the tools to do that,” says Baillie.