Registering naturopaths is urgently needed to protect the public as a purported “naturopath” is found guilty of sexually assaulting 18 women

For well over ten years, the Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists (ARONAH) has been calling on the government to protect the public and register the professions of naturopaths and Western herbalists.  This comes as a Perth man, an alleged naturopath, was found guilty this week (November 2021) of sexually assaulting eighteen women from 2010-2017.  In this case, there is no known evidence that the offender holds any formal qualifications in naturopathy.

Unqualified individuals representing themselves as a “naturopath” will continue to put the public at risk until regulatory restrictions are put in place.  Regulation will ensure that there are minimum standards of training and education as well as ethical guidelines for the profession of naturopathy to follow. The naturopathy profession is currently self-regulated with limited opportunity to uphold minimum standards and protect the professional title, Naturopath. 

Naturopathy is the only profession formally assessed by the government as requiring registration yet still not included in the Australian National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS).  This has been at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) since 2008. (refer: The Practice and Regulatory Requirements for Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine. (pdf) 2005 Victorian government report on the regulation of naturopaths and herbalists). The above case is a timely reminder that the government needs to act on its own recommendation to register the naturopathy profession, otherwise the public will continue to be put at risk of potential harm.

In the absence of statutory registration, ARONAH has been set up to mirror the statutorily regulated boards administered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA) of the NRAS. However, as ARONAH is a voluntary registry, no previous complaints have related to a naturopath registered with ARONAH, and as such any action that can be taken is limited.  As a consequence, complaints made by the public are re-directed to the relevant state bodies or the police. 

Unfortunately, an important informal screening measure was removed by the Federal Government in 2018 when private health insurance rebates were scrapped for naturopaths. These rebates provided a means for the public to check if their naturopath was qualified. If a naturopath was not registered for rebates, it indicated that the practitioner may not be appropriately trained. Without these rebates, there is no easy way for the public to distinguish between qualified and unqualified naturopaths.

One measure patients can take to ensure their practitioners are qualified, is asking practitioners about their training. Another way to check is to ask whether the practitioner is a member of ARONAH or at least a professional association recognised by the World Naturopathic Federation, which is an international body representing naturopaths around the globe.