Dr. Sarah DeFrancesco with a patient

How To Choose The Right Holistic Doctor: Navigating The Maze Of Naturopathic, Functional, & Integrative Medicine

Doctors and patients have evolved beyond a symptom driven approach to health. We are seeking out smarter answers, honoring our body’s healing process, and focusing on creating health instead of managing disease. Welcome to your new future. If you’re looking for a holistic approach to your health, but not sure where to start, this guide is for you.

What Is Holistic Root Cause Medicine?

A holistic root cause approach is focused on helping healthy people maximize their wellness and resilience as well as helping people with chronic health concerns stop and reverse the dysfunction and degeneration of failing health systems.

Imagine you’re driving and the the check engine light pops up on your dashboard alerting you to a problem with the engine. The light tells you there’s a problem that needs be checked out, but it doesn’t tell you what the problem is.

So what are you going to do next? Keep on driving, ignore the distress signal, and hope for the best? Maybe you could put a piece of duct tape over the light and it wouldn’t bother you anymore? No, of course not, you don’t want to blow your engine and have to get a new car – so you’re going to take your car in to find out why the check engine light came on and fix the cause.

Your symptoms are just like a check engine light. They are not here to hurt you. They are here to save you by alerting you to the problem so you can resolve it and heal. A holistic root cause approach focuses on the education, lifestyle, mindset, testing, and personalized plan you need to heal dysfunctional cells and systems so you can find your hidden causes and obstacles to healing.

Every cell in your body is programmed to heal and perform at its best IF you provide the right environment.

Root Causes

What Are The Benefits Of Holistic Root Cause Medicine?

Healing The Root Cause

When you focus on resolving the cause of symptoms instead of using a pill for every ill, you will heal your symptoms as a result of optimizing healthy function throughout your body so you can prevent future illness, become more resilient, and feel your best long term.

A Proactive Approach To Health Care

You do not have to wait to be sick enough to receive a diagnosis or settle for being told “everything looks fine” when you don’t feel fine. We don’t watch and wait while your body deteriorates. holistic root cause medicine provides a proactive approach that assesses and removes obstacles to living in a state of health.

Investigate The Overlooked Causes Of Your Health Concerns

A holistic root cause approaches uses listening, thorough assessments, timeline analysis, and advanced labs to uncover and heal overlooked causes that are keeping you from being well.

Education & Learning Essential Health Skills

When you learn how to eat, move, think, sleep, and create an environment that supports your health, you disrupt the genetics of disease and unlock a lifetime of benefits that can be shared with your loved ones and passed on for generations to come.

What Types Of Tools Are Used In Holistic Root Cause Medicine?


  • Nutrition
  • Lifestyle
  • Mindset
  • Environment


  • Listening To Your Story
  • Root Cause Timeline Analysis To Identify Triggers
  • Functional Testing To Find Overlooked Causes

Personalized Plan To Remove Obstacles To Healing & Root Causes

  • Nutrition Plan
  • Nutritional Supplements
  • Botanical Medicine
  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathy
  • Mind Body Medicine
  • Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
  • Pharmaceuticals (if necessary)


  • Accountability
  • Coaching
  • Real Talk

What Types of Doctors And Practitioners Offer Holistic Root Cause Medicine?

This is where a lot of confusion happens for patients seeking help. There are so many different types of practitioners with different degrees and training, plus a lot of different names for holistic care. Let’s go over some of the trainings so you can be educated about your practitioner’s background.

Names For Holistic Root Cause Medicine

  • Naturopathic Medicine
  • Functional Medicine
  • Integrative Medicine

Types Of Practitioners That Offer Holistic Root Cause Medicine

  • Naturopathic Doctors (ND)
  • Medical Doctors (MD)
  • Osteopathic Doctors (DO)
  • Chiropractors (DC)
  • Physicians Assistants (PA)
  • Nurse Practitioners (NP)

Is a Naturopathic Doctor or Medical Doctor The Best Choice?

It depends! The degree your doctor holds has very little to do with their current knowledge and ability to help you. It was their first training, but it certainly was not their last. All of the above degrees are required to continue their education through approved professional courses and curriculums.

In addition, practitioners learn from patient experience, updating new protocols, masterminding with peers, and research. In a conventional medical practice it takes an average of 17.5 years for new treatments (already verified by research) to be put into practice. That means conventional medicine is almost 20 years behind our current knowledge!

The advantage of working with a holistic root cause practitioner is to receive the most up to date and thoughtful care available. If I learn something at a conference or from a colleague on the weekend that can help my patient on Monday, we do it.

Where Do Practitioners Get Trained In Holistic Root Cause Medicine?

Naturopathic Doctors are trained in natural medicine from the beginning at one of the seven North American Accredited Naturopathic Medical Schools. Naturopathic Doctors are not available in every state. A Naturopathic Doctor is not the same thing as a “naturopath.” Make sure to check that you are working with a Naturopathic Doctor and that they have completed training at one of the seven accredited schools (list linked above).

Medical Doctors, Osteopathic Doctors, Chiropractors, Physicians Assistants, and Nurse Practitioners get holistic root cause training through programs like The Institute Of Functional Medicine, Functional Medicine University, and The Arizona Center For Integrative Medicine.

Ok, But Seriously, Which Type Of Practitioner Is The Best?

It’s helpful to be educated about the education and training your practitioner has received – but the most important thing is what the practitioner does with that information and how they continue to advance their clinical skills and ability to help you.

I’m a Naturopathic Doctor and Licensed Acupuncturist, but I don’t recommend you pick a Naturopathic Doctor or any other type of practitioner based on the title alone. The best way to pick the right practitioner for you is to focus on the value they can add to your health journey.

What Should I Look For In A Holistic Root Cause Practitioner?

Look for a practitioner who will…

  • Listen to you and your story.
  • Be an educator, mentor, and partner on your health journey.
  • Use a proven process to provide you with the best care and outcomes.
  • Connect the dots on your history to identify triggers and root causes in your timeline.
  • Use the therapeutic order and root cause testing to investigate and resolve the underlying causes of your health problems instead of just trying supplements to see what works.
  • Use root cause testing effectively and efficiently to discover overlooked causes to test instead of guess what’s going on without ordering labs that are unnecessary or not actionable (won’t change the treatment).
  • Use functional blood chemistry analysis to screen standard blood tests for markers of optimal health instead of disease.
  • Provide clear education, instructions, and support for lifestyle and nutrition recommendations.
  • Addresses gut health, immunity, and nutrition as foundation to improve all other body systems.

And most importantly, choose a practitioner who…

  • Believes you, listens to you, and values you.
  • Has a communication style that works best for you.
  • You feel you can open up to.
  • You like spending time with.
  • Has support in place so you can get questions answered in between visits (like a community, messaging system, or health coach on staff).

What Is The Investment In Holistic Root Cause Medicine Services?

You will need to invest your time, energy, commitment, and finances in the right service, lab testing, and treatment plan to create the healing you are looking for. Do not waste your energy working with a practitioner who is fully committed to you if you are not fully committed to yourself.

Fully commit to:

  • Making your healing and needs a priority BEFORE everyone else’s. You must put on your own oxygen mask first. Then you can be of greatest service and caring for your family and friends.
  • Shifting your mindset from wanting your doctor or a pill to fix you to being in partnership with your doctor to create the right circumstances for healing.
  • Creating non-negotiable space in your calendar and commitments for fun, stress relief, self care, and your treatment recommendations.
  • Eliminating and reducing stress. This means taking an honest look at the commitments and relationships in your life and being willing to shift or let go of stressors.
  • Cleaning up your environment (food, self care products, cleaning products, home).
  • Completing and investing in recommended lab testing.
  • Implementing and following through with nutrition & lifestyle recommendations.
  • Doing the work. Committing to your personalized plan including nutrition, lifestyle, mindset, and supplements.

What Do Holistic Root Cause Medicine Services Include?

Most doctors who are providing holistic root cause care offer direct care services above and beyond the scope of standard protocols and procedures governed by insurance companies.

Direct care services may include:

  • The most up to date holistic root cause care available without the red tape and limitations of insurance approval.
  • Medical autonomy. Decisions about your care stay between you and your doctor. And so do your records.
  • A personalized plan customized for you and your health concerns.
  • 60 minute appointments with your doctor so there is time to fully hear you and create a personalized plan.
  • Your doctor’s research and commitment to your case outside and in addition to your office visits.
  • Lab interpretation videos so you can fully understand your results, watch multiple times, and share with loved ones (so they know what’s going on with you too!).
  • Educational materials and opportunities like in person and online workshops so you can continuously improve your health outside of your time with your doctor.
  • Message access to your doctor or a health coach in between visits for questions and updates.
  • Deals negotiated on your behalf with lab and supplement providers so you can save money and get the best pricing.

Do I Still Need My Primary Care Physician?

This depends on the state you are located in and your practitioner’s clinic policies. At our clinic we require that patients are current with their primary care physician. We do not provide acute or urgent care services and we do not replace the services that your current medical team provides. This model allows us to stay focused on your deep healing work and makes sure that all your needs are covered.

Tips To Keep Holistic Root Cause Medicine Cost Effective

The services provided and financial investment vary depending on the service, method of delivery, and your location – but there are some universal things you can do to leverage your resources and keep costs down.

  • Enroll in a program and commit to making progress with your health. Avoid going to 2-3 office visits and then giving up for 6 months. This can seriously delay your healing and cause you and your doctor to have to start all over again.
  • Use insurance to cover standard blood chemistry and functional lab testing. Many of these tests (even the fancy ones!) can be partially covered by PPO plans regardless of your doctor being regarded as “out-of-network.”
  • If your blood tests won’t be covered by your insurance, ask your doctor about labs that provide a cash discount. (The lab service we use can save you up to 80% off the listed price.)
  • Request a superbill for office visits that you can submit to your insurance for out-of-network reimbursement.
  • Consider opening a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA).
  • Consider a Health Cost Sharing Program as an alternative to expensive health insurance plans. There are many options including Liberty Health Share and Knew Health.

Next Steps To Find The Right Holistic Root Cause Practitioner For You

Using the information in this guide and honoring what resonates with you most, explore both local and long distance options. A local google search for “Naturopathic Doctor” or “Functional Medicine” is the best place to start.

Attend a workshop or webinar to get a feel for the practitioner’s approach and communication style. Many practitioners will also offer a 15-20 minute “discovery” or “meet and greet” call to make sure they have the right solution for you and to find out if you’re a good fit to work together.

Working With Dr. Sara DeFrancesco & Thriving Force

We are currently accepting new patients in the Portland, Oregon area by application. Click here to learn if the The Limitless Program is the right solution for you and how to apply.

Long distance consultations will be available in Spring 2018. If you’re living in the United States and are interested in long distance consultations when they become available, click here to be added to the waiting list.

Dr. Sara DeFrancesco

Dr. Sara DeFrancesco

I’m a Naturopathic Doctor, Licensed Acupuncturist, and expert in mood and brain health who healed my own anxiety and panic attacks.

I partner with patients to uncover and heal the underlying causes of chronic health concerns, mood imbalance, and mental health challenges so you can feel your best.

Using holistic medicine, functional testing, neuroscience, and mind-body tools I create personalized plans unique to your root cause(s) to remove obstacles to healing, correct imbalances, and allow dysfunctional systems to heal.

I’ve helped hundreds of patients transform their health and I welcome you to find out how this comprehensive approach to deep healing can do the same for you.

Dr. Sara DeFrancesco

Dr. Sara DeFrancesco

Hi, I’m Dr. Sara DeFrancesco. I’m a Naturopathic Doctor, Licensed Acupuncturist, and expert in mood and brain health who healed my own anxiety and panic attacks.

I help women struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, and digestive problems feel their best through a synergy of holistic medicine, functional testing, and mind-body tools customized to uncover and heal the overlooked causes that are preventing you from being well.

Read More About Me Here

I’m a Naturopathic Doctor, Licensed Acupuncturist, and expert in mood and brain health who healed my own anxiety and panic attacks.

I partner with patients to uncover and heal the underlying causes of chronic health concerns, mood imbalance, and mental health challenges so you can feel your best.

Using holistic medicine, specialty testing, neuroscience, and mind-body tools I create a personalized plan unique to your root cause(s) to remove obstacles to healing, correct imbalances, and allow dysfunctional systems to heal.

I’ve helped hundreds of patients transform their health and I welcome you to find out how this comprehensive approach to deep healing can do the same for you.

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