By Jane Sheppard
An important element in health and healing is finding the right doctor or health practitioners for your child. You may decide to work with a holistic pediatrician (MD) or you may choose one or more natural healing modalities. In any case, you will need to find the right practitioners to meet your unique child’s needs.
Knowing a practitioner’s background and qualifications is advised. In the alternative health care arena you will usually find practitioners in one of three categories.
Licensed professionals – Includes holistic medical doctor (MD), osteopath (DO), chiropractor (DC), doctor of Chinese medicine (OMD or DOM) and acupuncturist (L.Ac.). Naturopathic doctors (ND) are licensed in some states but not all. Licensing tells you that the person has undergone a significant amount of training, which may include an internship, and has passed a state or national test. Keep in mind that credentials can vary widely. State by state you may find different licensing practices or standards.
Certified practitioners – This is a more ambiguous group, as a certification can mean anything from 8 hours to 1,000 hours (or more) of training. With each therapy you choose, it is essential to inquire about the level of training and education required for certification. Homeopaths (CCH), massage therapists, reiki practitioners, hypnotherapists (CHT), and numerous forms of bodyworkers fall under this category.
Intuitive or spiritual healers – These practitioners may have no license and sometimes no certification, but have studied with their own teachers and follow the guidance of their intuition, personal gifts such as psychic ability, or other forms of spiritual guidance they may be receiving. Keep in mind that credentials (or lack of) after someone’s name are not necessarily indications of quality. There are many great healers whose type of therapy does not offer a license or certification, yet have studied extensively and are profoundly intuitive and knowledgeable. There are also many charlatans and “quacks” in this field so you need to fully investigate by asking about training, experience, and conducting a complete interview.
Where to Begin Your Search
How do you narrow the field and find a practitioner that is right for your child? Begin by collecting referrals to qualified practitioners in your area. Ask your friends and other people you trust if they know of a good practitioner. You may get a referral from your medical doctor, or other trusted health practitioner. Local magazines and newspapers frequently have articles written by respected health practitioners. Professional associations (be aware that some associations do not check their members’ qualifications), support groups, and advocacy organizations are good places to check. Reputable schools of alternative therapies frequently hire experienced and qualified practitioners as teachers. Training programs may offer referrals to certified and licensed providers in your area.
The state governing organizations that regulate modalities such as chiropractic or acupuncture can confirm a practitioner’s credentials, and even tell you if any complaints or charges have been made.
What to Ask Initially
Once you have your list of referrals, take the time call the office of each one. Speak to the practitioner’s staff and ask the following questions to get some preliminary information:
1. What types of treatment does the practitioner provide? What is the theory/philosophy behind these treatments? Can you refer me to some literature so I can better understand the practitioner’s work?
2. What is the practitioner’s background? Where was he or she trained? How long was his or her training? Is the practitioner licensed or certified? By what governing authority?
3. How long has the practitioner been in practice?
4. How long does he or she work with the average patient? Is it usually long-term or short-term treatment?
5. What is the practitioner’s availability (office visits or phone)? Will there be a long wait to schedule an appointment? Is he or she accessible by cell phone? How easy is to get an emergency appointment?
6. What are the practitioner’s fees? Does he or she offer a payment plan? Sliding scale? Will you work with my insurance and do the necessary paperwork?
The Interview Process
The answers to the above questions can help you narrow down your search to a few practitioners that you and your child would like to personally meet. Interviewing prospective practitioners is an important aspect in choosing to whom you will entrust your child’s health. It is during an in-person consultation that you can get a sense of who this person is and how he or she will work with your child. You may have to pay a fee for the practitioner’s time, but it can be well worth it. If you meet with several different prospective practitioners, you may want to take notes or tape the interview so you can keep the details straight.
During the interview, describe your child’s health condition (if applicable). Be very honest about your beliefs and talk about your child’s unique experience of the condition. Let the practitioner know what you expect and what he or she can expect of you. The following is a list of suggested questions you may want to ask of the practitioner to help you get to know more about how he or she works. Listen carefully to the responses.
1. What is your philosophical approach to healing?
2. How do you integrate the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of health into your work?
3. Have you worked with many children? How do you help them to feel more comfortable?
4. Have you worked with my child’s condition before (if applicable)? What has been the outcome in those cases? How long would you estimate my child’s treatment would take? What would be the likely changes?
5. Can you approach my child’s care individually and with an open mind, rather than with a predetermined treatment plan?
6. Do you keep copies of your notes regarding the treatment and healing process, and can these be sent to my other practitioners? Can I get copies of my child’s records/notes/lab results?
7. Will you explain to me what you are doing, notify me of test results within a reasonable period of time, and keep me informed of my child’s condition?
8. Is it appropriate for you to suggest names of other patients or clients that I can contact to ask about their experiences with your treatments? (this may not be appropriate due to doctor/patient confidentiality)
9. Will my child’s appointment time be honored or will we have to wait?
If the practitioner is a holistic M.D., find out how long he or she has been integrating alternative therapies into the practice and be certain you know about the doctor’s level of training in each therapy offered. If you are interviewing medical doctors that do not offer alternative treatments, ask them how they feel about alternative medicine, and if they would be able to refer your child to an alternative practitioner as part of the overall treatment plan, if the need arose. Let them know if your child is already seeing an alternative practitioner. If applicable, ask them how they feel about your decisions about vaccines. Or, if you are not certain about whether or not you want to have your child vaccinated, let them know. Be honest about your beliefs and fears, and note whether or not you feel supported and respected by the doctor.
Observe the practitioner’s personality or “bedside manner” and the feelings you have about whether this person is right for your child. Closely watch your child’s reactions to the practitioner. Most children have a strong intuitive sense about people they meet, and may respond with either fear or openness. After each interview, ask your child how he or she felt about this person. If your child’s response is negative, find out why. Pay attention to your own feelings and gut instincts. Did you feel comfortable and respected when you called or visited the office? Were your questions answered patiently to your satisfaction? Will you be able to feel like a valued person working as a partner with this practitioner? Do you feel trust and confidence in this person? Does he/she seem to care about your child and show an interest in your family, lifestyle and diet? Does this practitioner honor your beliefs, opinions, anxieties and fears? What is the state of this practitioner’s health? Does he or she appear to have a healthy lifestyle or are there signs of overweight, overwork, smoking or drinking? (You probably want a practitioner who is just as committed to good health as you are.)
The Treatment Plan
Checking out background and credentials in addition to the interview process should give you enough data to choose who you want to begin to work with. Once you have made a decision you feel good about and your child begins his or her treatment, be sure to be an active participant in the process. Carefully follow the recommendations agreed upon. Pay close attention to any diet changes and instructions on how and when to administer medications, herbs, homeopathic remedies, or supplements. Communicate your child’s needs and your concerns. If you are combining several therapies, be certain to tell all of your child’s practitioners, including your primary care doctor (if applicable), about all the treatments your child is receiving. For instance, if your child is taking pharmaceutical drugs, his or her homeopath, herbalist or naturopath will need to know what these medications are, and your pediatrician will need to know what herbs and supplements your child is taking. Certain herbs can interfere with drugs and many drugs can inhibit the healing process. Make sure you understand what the practitioner is doing. If something is not clear, ask questions until you are comfortable. Make choices based on complete information. Continually monitor and evaluate the treatments and track the results.
Also remember to give whatever therapy you choose a chance to work. The holistic approach to healing can be subtle, and alternative treatments usually work on a deeper level than conventional drugs. It may take some time before your child experiences a lasting change of health. In some instances, the condition may even worsen before it gets better, as the body brings the condition to the surface in its effort to rid itself of it.
In summary, choosing a practitioner is based on both intuition and intellect. There is balance to be achieved in following your instincts while being grounded in informed decision-making. Moreover, forming active partnerships with your child’s practitioners can greatly maximize your child’s healing potential. Success comes from an alliance between people who possess mutual respect, honest communication and a shared commitment to healing. You have every right to select the practitioners who provide you with a setting of comfort and trust.
Credentials and Qualifications
Holistic Medical Doctors (MDs) – These are licensed MDs who integrate various alternative therapies with conventional medicine. To be truly holistic, they should consider mind, emotions, and the whole body when assessing and treating patients.
Homeopaths – A homeopath who has taken the voluntary exam given by the Council for Homeopathic Certification and holds the CCH (Certified in Classical Homeopathy) certificate has demonstrated competence in classical homeopathy. Otherwise you should ask about hours of training in homeopathy, percent of their practice that is homeopathic, and years in practice. In most states, a license to practice medicine is all a medical doctor needs in order to incorporate homeopathy into his or her practice. It is important to check the doctor’s level of training in homeopathy. Some MDs have merely taken a short course in homeopathy and are prescribing remedies the same way they prescribe pharmaceuticals – a one-remedy-fits-all protocol. A fully trained homeopath will choose a remedy carefully to match the unique symptoms of the individual child. Each case is treated differently from every other, and the character of the whole person must be taken into account (the totality of symptoms).
Naturopathic Physicians – A licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) attends a four-year graduate level naturopathic medical school and is educated in all of the same basic sciences as an MD, but also studies holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness. In addition to a standard medical curriculum, the naturopathic physician is required to complete four years of training in clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, and counseling (to encourage people to make lifestyle changes in support of their personal health). A naturopathic physician takes rigorous professional board exams so that he or she may be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician.
Naturopathic medicine is a licensed profession in over 15 states in the U.S. When not licensed, inquire about the level of training the naturopaths have acquired. They may have all the training mentioned above, but do not have a license simply because their state does not license naturopaths. Or they may have taken a correspondence course in naturopathic medicine.
Herbalists – No specific degree or license is required to advise about herbs. Currently the American Herbalists Guild is the only association of medical herbalists in the United States whose professional members are determined by an admissions review process to assure that a relatively high level of competency, education, and experience has been attained. American Herbalists Guild members have specific continuing education requirements and follow a code of ethics. Professional American Herbalists Guild members can be identified by the term “Herbalist AHG” after their name (some herbalists simply use “AHG” after their name). Contact the American Herbalists Guild: http://www.healthy.net/herbalists/Finding.htm .
The National Institute of Medical Herbalists is a highly respected professional herbalist organization in the United Kingdom. Professional members have graduated from a specific medical herbalist training program and like the American Herbalists Guild, there are specific requirements for active membership. Members must follow a code of ethics. These herbalists are some of the most well trained Western herbalists in the world. Professional herbalist members of the Institute are identified by the acronym “M.N.I.M.H.” after their name.
The Herb Research Foundation (HRF) is a nonprofit research and education organization that provides accurate information on the safe and appropriate use of herbs. Website: http://www.herbs.org
Herb Research Foundation
1007 Pearl Street, Suite 200
Boulder, CO 80302
303) 449-2265 (Office)
(800) 748-2617 (VoiceMail)
(303) 449-7849 (FAX)
Traditional Chinese Medicine – Traditional Chinese medicine is a licensed profession in over 27 states. Licenses are issued under such titles as Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM) or Oriental Medical Doctor (OMD). Licensed acupuncturists are typically identified by the use of “L.Ac.” after their name. Licensing usually requires graduation from a three-year course of study and clinical experience. In some states without licensing, anyone can call themselves acupuncturists so check out the individual’s training and clinical experience. Currently there are more than 50 schools of acupuncture that exist in the United States, and several medical schools now include Acupuncture courses. Pediatrics is a specialty of Chinese medicine, so be sure your practitioner has been trained appropriately in treating children. Contact The American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM). http://www.aaom.org
Chiropractors – All states and Canadian provinces license chiropractors. Some chiropractors belong to the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) or International Chiropractors Association’s (ICA) pediatric council and take regular continuing post-graduate courses in pediatrics. For more information, and to find a pediatric chiropractor in your area, search the directory of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association http://www.icpa4kids.com.