Archive for the ‘Approach’ Category

To conclude the series of ideas to apply a naturopathic approach to corporate wellness, I’ll tackle the sixth and final principle of naturopathy: prevention. The naturopathic physician recognizes the fact that the goal of healthcare is not only treatment of disease, but ultimately the prevention of disease. To meet this goal, the naturopath works with each patient to maximize their health through education and the promotion of health-building habits.

In my approach to corporate wellness, all the previous principles I have applied have been shaped to help the employee achieve proactive wellness through prevention. The process flow now looks like this:

  • employee clarifies their personal health goals
  • employee realizes they hold the power and responsibility to reach those goals
  • the program works with the employee to identify the root cause of what is hindering them from reaching their goals
  • the program helps the employee take a 360-degree view of their internal and external health, to reach their goals in totality
  • the program empowers the employee with knowledge and strategies to make their goals happen
  • celebrate and share success! and now reset goals and continue the process again

This process positions the employee population to take charge of their health and foster a culture of prevention. Imagine a workplace where folks talked about how good they feel as opposed to how much they’re paying for prescriptions and how tired they are all the time. Obviously the workplace itself can attribute to such negativity, but if employees have already taken charge of their health, they’ll be that much more able and motivated to take charge of their work and the shape of their company. I don’t know about you, but I want to work with that workforce!

Hopefully, I’m showing a bit of a pattern here. In the first four posts of this series, I’ve emphasized a naturopathic approach to corporate wellness, through the six guiding principles of naturopathy. The one principle that has been present within my thought process so far but that hasn’t been called out explicitly is doctor as teacher.

Within naturopathic medicine, doctor as teacher means that the naturopath realizes that it is up to the patient to take charge of their own healing. Knowing this, the naturopath then works to empower and enable the patient to follow a path that will maximize that healing ability. The naturopath acts as a catalyst for the patient’s wellness revolution.

Within corporate wellness, I think this means that wellness coaches and programs should endeavor to empower the employee with knowledge and strategies to make their self-defined wellness goals happen. This seems obvious, but I think the key here is to always realize that it’s up to the employee to make these changes happen. Therefore, pragmatic and actionable information is key. To provide libraries or indexes of already available information adds no value. But if proven, time-tested and simple strategies to help the employee make incremental changes in their routines are made available, then the more likely they will actually be applied. And better yet, provide the employees a forum to share their progress, challenges and successes with their peers. A little cheering and motivation goes a long way.

Treat the whole person. In the case of my first naturopathic experience, I was a bit taken aback by the amount of time and effort made by the doctor to understand the totality of my problem. Not only did she want to identify the root cause, she sought to explore the entirety of my being to help me overcome not only my initial problem, but anything standing in the way of my own maximum health. With this principle, naturopathic physicians employ a comprehensive approach in diagnosis and treatment. They recognize that the integrity of one’s health is best-defined through the complex interaction of multiple factors within one’s body and mind.

Within the world of corporate wellness, this principle can be applied directly. The wellness program should provide the employee the tools and expertise to identify and rectify any and all factors preventing their ideal health. This should include resources to improve physical and mental health, encouragement and strategies for lifestyle modification, and ideally, should provide emotional support through the employee’s evolution.

Companies must realize that employees are more than resources that complete tasks between 8am and 5pm. To foster a relationship that realizes the vast contributions that each employee can make to a company’s success, the company should partner with the employee for mutual success. In my mind, this means helping the employee achieve this holistic health. This way, the employee will not only perform better in their tasks, but their positive energy will infect their coworkers and help all achieve extraordinary accomplishments.

This might be my favorite principle of naturopathy. To identify and treat the root cause of any problem is the only method to solve it properly. In my career in information technology, I took this for granted for a long time. After I graduated college and solved problems full time, I approached problems this way automatically. For instance, if application users reported bad data in our system, I didn’t just fix the data in the database. I dug into all the code that touched that data to determine how it became corrupted in the first place. Although this seemed intuitive in my own approach, I learned that it was not common.

Any good doctor, no matter their treatment approach, should apply this principle when dealing with a patient’s problem. However, either due to social conditioning, lack of time, or simple lack of expertise, it doesn’t seem to be followed consistently in the medical community. In my own case, such treatment fortunately led me to discover naturopathy!

Late in the summer of 2004, I traveled to the Philippines to implement a new software system at work. Upon returning, I developed a nagging digestive problem: constipation. I tried some things on my own, but resorted to seeing the primary care physician that was assigned to me through my insurance. This doctor prescribed milk of magnesia, enemas and eventually even X-rayed my torso. All these treatments were focused on reducing the symptom of my problem, but got nowhere in stopping it for more than a day or so. Around this same time, a new teammate joined my cycling team, and his wife happened to be a naturopathic doctor. She spoke at a team meeting and I immediately sought out her help. And help I did receive! Through the use of homeopathy and mineral supplementation, we were able to root out my problem and restore normal digestive function.

Naturopathic physicians, by oath, work to address the fundamental cause of disease. They recognize that symptoms signify the body’s efforts to heal and therefore should not be suppressed through treatment. Further, they know that causes may exist within physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual planes, and will not assume any single cause simply due to symptoms.

How can this philosophy be applied to corporate wellness? Ideally, I think that wellness programs and coaches should go beyond superficial “risk assessments,” generic tips and documentation, or blood tests. They should spend the necessary time to work with each employee to determine what it is internally and externally that is keeping them from their ideal health. Although this will require more one on one time, it will further ensure the effectiveness of the program: the changes required to achieve wellness will be identified, and they’ll be applicable long term. Further, if the employee believes in the identified solutions, having taking part in the process of rooting them out, then they’ll feel more engaged in their journey to ideal health from the start.

At this point, I’ve explained that the process begins with the employee identifying their own vision of their ideal health. Next, the employee is presented with the fact that they already have the tools in their own life to achieve their desired result. Now, we dig into the employee’s life and ask, what is it in your life that is preventing you from achieving your health goals? Could it be: nutrition, lack of exercise, disorganization at home/work, clutter, relationships, old habits, self-image, stress, pressure, time, support? What small step can made today to start to change that?

To continue the series of thoughts considering a naturopathic approach to corporate wellness, I’ll bring forth the healing power of nature. Within naturopathy, this principle confirms that the body possesses inherent ability to establish, maintain and restore health. In treatment, the naturopath recognizes this power and works to identify and remove any weakness or blockages within the multiple pathways of the natural healing process. Further, she helps each patient create an environment, within the body and within the patient’s life, that maximizes this healing potential.

In the context of corporate wellness, I think this translates to the need to recognize that each employee has within themselves the power to shape their own health. As with first do no harm where I explained that you want to allow the employee to clarify and envision their own ideals of wellness, here you want to show them that the path to this vision already lies within them. Through small lifestyle changes that the employee either never placed enough value to finally pursue or that they simply didn’t recognize they could change, leaps in health can be achieved. Such changes might include food choices, quantities and timing; integrating exercise into routines; or adjusting life routines and schedules to allow for more “me time.”

Previously we asked, what is your picture of your ideal health? Now we ask, what changes can be made to get there? What would you do if time and money were limitless? How can we remove those factors and make those activities possible?

Naturopathic medicine distinguishes itself from other forms of practice with six guiding principles:

  • First do no harm
  • The healing power of nature
  • Identify and treat the cause
  • Treat the whole person
  • Doctor as teacher
  • Prevention

How can we apply these principles to corporate wellness? I believe that the approach that these principles guide could be very effective in combating our most pressing public health issues such as diabetes and obesity.

To begin let’s look at First do no harm. This principle is shared across all forms of medicine from different perspectives. In naturopathy, this means that therapeutic actions should complement the body’s natural healing abilities to correct the root cause of an illness rather merely suppress the symptoms of that illness.

Within the environment of workplace health promotion, I think this perspective can be utilized in a unique way. Here, First do no harm suggests that you must not project your own idea of wellness onto each employee. Do not “harm” their psyche by presenting the idea that their wellness is something you, as a coach, can directly change. Instead, work with each person to clarify and define their own idea of wellness, based on their own personal values. From there, provide them with information and tools and support and encouragement to make the gradual lifestyle changes that might be necessary to reach their personal health goals. Overall, rather than fixing what you perceive as their opportunities to improve their health (symptoms), you can work with them, within the boundaries of what they find important and feel capable of, to better their life in a way they feel empowered to affect (the root cause).