Opinions of Bastyr University? (I am averse to woo)
January 23, 2017 9:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to figure out how to evaluate people who reference Bastyr University. Please share experiences with this institution.

In the Puget Sound area, I have heard more and more about Bastyr University recently. I first heard about it from a medical professional that I respected, but they referenced it regarding holistic and naturopathic practices, so I reflexively dismissed it since I had a lot of other resources that seem to have more basis in science.

Since then I've met a few people socially who are students at Bastyr University, and I see a lot of people on Tinder who list that as their school. Today I finally looked up the Wikipedia article on Bastyr, and it doesn't sound good:
Bastyr's programs teach and research topics that are considered pseudoscience and quackery by the scientific and medical communities. Quackwatch includes Bastyr University in its list of "questionable organizations" as a school which is "accredited but not recommended".

So, is Bastyr is all woo, or do they have some non-woo programs?
posted by anonymous to Education (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have the exact same impression as you, that it is well respected by people who believe in treatments I consider to be...not necessarily evidence based. I interviewed a therapist who talked about an acupuncturist being "Bastyr trained" as if it were the equivalent of having gone to Harvard medical school.
posted by potrzebie at 11:19 PM on January 23, 2017

Short answer: Oh god run iike hell. Also, for more info on the quality of medical education taught at Bastyr and other naturopathic colleges, read this in-depth blog by a naturopath trained at Bastyr comparing the terrible quality of "medical" education there to what would be experienced by an MD at a real medical school: ND Confession, Part 1: Naturopathic clinical training inside and out.

long answer about the background to why perfectly smart people might reference Bastyr as though it's a legitimate medical education:

The answer to what you're actually asking is complicated- naturopathy is nonsense even by the standards of some other alternative medicine beliefs, but people who reference it may be simply misinformed and may think that it's a "legitimate" branch of alternative medicine because of naturopathy's insistence that it's practitioners have an education equivalent to doctors (they don't). Naturopathy has conducted a very long public relations campaign to spread this info, and Bastyr is one of the main institutions that naturopaths point to as an attempt at prestige.

Naturopathy has been doing this since some very interesting early 20th century medical sectarian struggles for legitimacy related to the birth of the American Medical Association- in which certain medical sects, such as chiropractic and naturopathy, came out with more legitimacy and thus the ability to form licensure boards and some kinds of state or federal recognition. This was a dirty fight and the AMA was hardly a hero in the process, but interesting things happened that led to the birth of "alternative medicine" claims that we see today, including claims of legitimacy in education.

Other medical sects, such as (I think) homeopathy and the Eclectic branch of medical practice (a sort of herbal-using medical doctor that existed at the end of the 19th century and early 20th) , failed to gain this same legitimizing relationship with regulation. The reasons some sects failed and others succeeded is a very complicated story that involves personalities and organizational skills more than evidence-based medicine, which didn't exist for either these medical sects nor really for the AMA at the time.

Anyway, both naturopathy and chiropractic have been, for almost 100 years now, following a very vigorous policy as professions in disseminating the message that 'their education is exactly like that needed for an MD, they just study different practices'. Since modern naturopathy and chiropractic as industries came out of a struggle for legitimacy within the medical profession and since their legitimacy is occasionally questioned by state regulators, this propaganda is a very important part of their survival as industries.

In reality that is not even remotely the case, especially for naturopathy, both at second-rate naturopathic colleges and at a flagship institution like Bastyr.

Most people who don't look very deeply can come under the impression that naturopathic college and naturopathic research (which Bastyr claims to do) are valid and somewhat equivalent to a real MD education or to research conducted by evidence-based medical research establishments.
posted by girl Mark at 11:38 PM on January 23, 2017 [18 favorites]

Here's a good example of a (pro-) naturopathic blog making the equivalency claim/propoganda. Notice the highlighted "US Department Of Education recognizes the ND degree as...".
“So you’re going to be, like, almost a doctor, aren’t you?”

People who don't pay very close attention to the lack of evidence for the bunk practiced by naturopaths still encounter that sort of legitimacy messaging over and over and over. It's standard cocktail-party talk by naturopaths and some other alt-med practitioners who have some kind of legitimacy recognition by the state or federal government. You're much more likely to encounter that than, say, a discussion of the evidence (or lack thereof) for naturopathic courses of study which include 'energy medicine' or urine auto-injection or other nonsense.
posted by girl Mark at 11:53 PM on January 23, 2017

Bastyr University offers a range of graduate, undergraduate and certificate programs in 11 distinct areas of study. Areas of study include naturopathic medicine, acupuncture and East Asian medicine, nutrition, public health, ayurvedic sciences, midwifery, counseling and psychology, exercise science, holistic landscape design and herbal sciences.
Several of those programs seem to have somewhat-odd-looking accreditations, which I would consider a pretty bad sign based on experience I've had with fake schools / diploma mills (which are sort of a thing I find fascinating). That said, it doesn't look to be a diploma mill.

E.g. the Dietetics Program is accredited by these people, who also accredit a fairly substantial list of reputable universities. The Midwifery Program was previously the standalone Seattle Midwifery School (SMS), and has an accreditation from MEAC, which appears as though it might have had some degree of personnel crossover with the school (generally a red flag), but there are potentially historical reasons that render this not necessarily suspect given the specialized nature of the program and its origins.

The Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine Program is somewhat sketchier; it's accredited but the list of similarly-accredited schools is, as one might suspect, pretty thin. But none of them look to be mills or shell institutions, most seem to be non-profits, so the sketch factor probably hinges on your opinions of naturopathic "medicine" in general. Similarly, the Acupuncture and East Asian Medicine Program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), which despite the somewhat cringey name, appears to be the dominant accrediting body for acupuncture schools.

The other programs don't seem to have specialized professional accreditation, which would make me wonder about the quality particularly of the "Counseling and Psychology" track (since an accreditation body exists); the same is also true of "Exercise Science". I can only hope that people looking at resumes in those field are aware and keep it in mind -- but it's not a smoking gun or anything. There are a fair number of schools around with similarly non-professionally-accredited programs, and it just means caveat emptor, pretty much.

The other warning sign that you can generally use to suss out whether a school is up to something is to look at their English Language requirement -- F1 visa mills typically don't have one (or really any other requirements other than having your checks clear). Bastyr's are pretty significant, so I don't think that's the case either.

Overall (and somewhat disappointingly as I was really hoping to find the next Tri-Valley) it seems to be a Serious School, existing for the purpose of instructing actual students taking actual classes and awarding actual degrees and stuff, just engaged in the instruction of some things over which there's a lot of controversy (see girl Mark's post above...), and are arguably not necessarily grounded in the reality-based community.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:03 AM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also- even if you do believe in some alternative medicine "modalities" (I used to and I still think there's some possibility for some herbalist claims despite a lack of evidence), the version practiced by naturopaths is often severely distorted.

Two examples:
-acupuncture education for naturopaths is a sort of added-on afterthought. I'm pretty sure that many acupuncturists think that the shortened acupuncture education at naturopathic colleges is inadequate (not to mention the very, very short 'continuing education credits' versions of acupuncture education given to naturopaths who want to add modalities to their practice- I've heard horror stories about week-long acupuncture programs that are targeted to naturopaths who want to add acupunture to their menu of offerings).

Whether you think there's anything to acupuncture or not, naturopaths study a weirdly shortened mishmash of 'healthcare' modalities to the detriment of a deep 'understanding' of any of them, compared to 'specialists' who study that modality exclusively, such as acupuncturists and Chinese herbal practitioners.

-Herbalism generally vanished as a legitimate profession after that 1920's-era medical sectarian fight I referred to in my previous post. However, "medical herbalists" and lay herbalists have done a pretty good job trying to reconstruct historical practice such as that of the Eclectics or of folk herbal traditions, or to create an internally-consistent system for training other lay herbalists and for trying to make sense of claims for evidence for herbalism (which are slim to terrible generally).

Naturopathy's version of herbalism is thought by many non-naturopath herbalists to be an illegitimately distorted practice- for instance Ive encountered endless naturopathic woo about dosing which flies in the face of claims by other kinds of herbalists. Naturopaths often seem to prescribe very low doses of herbal preparations, sometimes with the excuse that there has been some kind of special energy medicine magic woo that has 'activated' (or other word of the year) the preparations so that miniscule doses are needed .

I have also VERY often seen naturopaths push specific brands of supplements, often sold in-office and manufactured by others in the naturopathy industry, and they seem to make strong claims that only their approved supplement 'brands' are legitimate medicine. It's very pyramid-schemey and otherwise messy even if you start out believing in the efficacy of herbalism.
posted by girl Mark at 12:05 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

So, is Bastyr is all woo, or do they have some non-woo programs?

Midwifery is at a fundamental level not a woo healthcare practice (I mean, you can apply all the homepathic drops you want, but at the end of the day, a human is exiting another human's uterus) and their program seems to meet the state standards for licensed midwife education for the State of Washington.

Everything else reeks of patchouli.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:52 AM on January 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

The first time I remember hearing about Bastyr, it was from Dr. Robert Atkins. The claims for his eponymous diet and health system have been mostly debunked. He loved Bastyr.

If you or anyone else are interested in many of the same programs, with a similar non-traditional vibe, but at a real accredited and (mostly) respected college, most of the same options (except the shady medical stuff) can be found in Seattle at Antioch University. They certainly offer better programs in counseling, education, and landscape design (which is how learned of them).
posted by seasparrow at 1:38 PM on January 24, 2017

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