Education the key to effective practice. A response to the recent NHMRC review

The recent National Health and Medical Research Council review into natural therapies highlights the need for registration to ensure minimum standards of training and education in these therapies, says Australia’s leading independent registration body for naturopaths and Western herbalists.

“Historically, the major issue affecting effective practice in the professions of naturopathy and Western herbal medicine practice has been unqualified practitioners calling themselves naturopaths or herbalists”, said Dr Amie Steel, chair of the Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists (ARONAH). “This has been a direct result of the lack of registration enforcing minimum standards of education, training and practice, as you would see in other professions”, Dr Steel added

This call comes as the NHMRC noted that whilst some therapies did have evidence supporting their use, conclusions around effectiveness were unable to be made due to issues around their application in practice.

“The NHMRC review actually found evidence of naturopathic practice in anxiety, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal conditions, among other areas”, said Dr Jon Wardle, acting administrator of the Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists who, like Dr Steel, is also a researcher from the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney.

“However, the review ridiculously suggested that as the majority of these studies were from overseas, particularly North America, they may not be applicable to the Australian profession”, said Dr Wardle, who also currently serves on the executive committee of the World Naturopathic Federation.

“The differences in naturopathic practice between North America, Europe and Australia are no more profound than the differences seen in professions like medicine, nursing, dietetics or physiotherapy”, Dr Wardle added.

“We see this via North American colleges using Australian naturopathic textbooks, Australian colleges employing North American lecturers, and collaborative research projects involving Australian and North American naturopathic colleges”.

“The Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists has also been working very hard over the last two years with accreditors and registration bodies internationally to align professional standards even further”, Dr Steel said.

The NHMRC review also noted that there was a large body of evidence on individual herbal agents, but said it was unable to find conclusive evidence on herbalism as a practice.

“I think this finding also demonstrates the importance of training and education. It is essential that training develops critical clinical reasoning skills so that these therapies are applied in the way that they are most effective. The NHMRC acknowledges herbs can be effective, if practised properly”, said Dr Steel.

“We’ve been advocating statutory registration of the professions of naturopathy and Western herbal medicine to help ensure practitioners are well-equipped to apply their therapies effectively”, said Dr Steel.

“We haven’t been alone, degree level education has been recommended for over 30 years, and every government review of regulatory requirements for the professions of naturopathy and Western herbal medicine in the last 20 years has recommended that they be regulated”, Dr Steel added.

“If the government truly want to support effective natural therapies practice, they won’t do this by restricting use of effective therapies like naturopathy and Western herbal medicine, but by ensuring minimum standards of training and accountability within these professions, which they well know is best served through statutory registration”.