Academic Spotlight: Ian Breakspear discovers his passion for natural therapies

Ian speaking at NHAA event

Ian Breakspear is a Senior Learning Facilitator for Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine at Torrens University.

Holding a Masters of Herbal Medicines, Diplomas of Naturopathy and Botanical Medicine, and a Certificate of Phytotherapy, Ian has been active in the field since 1993. His clinical practice focuses on patients with cardiovascular conditions, diabetes and chronic inflammatory conditions.

In addition to his educational role and clinical practice, Ian is an active researcher and author in the field of herbal quality and safety, and sits on various scientific, educational and professional steering committees. In 2021 he was also the winner of the Bioceuticals Integrative Medicine Award for Contribution to Research & Education.

He is the Chair of the Naturopathic Editorial Board for the global not-for-profit Natural Health Science Foundation; a Fellow of the Naturopaths & Herbalists Association of Australia (NHAA); Chair of the NHAA Board Member Advisory Committee; a member of the Scientific Steering Committee for Boundary Bend Olives; an Expert Contributor for the Olive Wellness Institute.

With his wealth of knowledge and experience, he’s an invaluable asset to Torrens University’s Health department.

Ian at an olive grove

Ian at Boundary Blend Olive Harvest

What is Naturopathy?

Ian defines Naturopathy as, “a system of health care defined by key principles, such as recognising the healing power of nature, treating the whole person, and focusing on disease prevention and health promotion.”

 He emphasises that, while Naturopathy employs different tools, such as herbal medicine, diet and lifestyle modification, “the profession is defined by the principles which are central to how we care for our patients.”

A passion for Naturopathy

As a child, Ian wanted to be “an astronaut or a pilot” and he briefly explored computer programming until he came across Naturopathy at a school careers market. He had family members with health issues, and he was intrigued by the potential of the field.

He started work experience at the Australasian College of Natural Therapies (which later became one of Torrens University’s heritage colleges) at the age of 16, and began his four-year undergraduate training at 17. It was unusual at the time for a school leaver to pursue a career in Naturopathy – for most it was a second or third career.

“I remember my very first herbal medicine lecture; I was enthralled with the complexity and history of plant medicines,” he recalls. “More than 30 years later I am still fascinated and constantly learning more.”

The journey to teaching

Ian admits that his first foray into education was an accident.

“I loved chemistry in high school and when I started training in Naturopathy, many of my fellow students struggled with chemistry. I started informally tutoring my classmates and then other students, and developed a taste for teaching,” he says.

A few years after he graduated, he was asked by a former lecturer to cover some of his classes. Despite his nerves, Ian must have done well as he was offered more regular teaching and has been teaching ever since.

“For me, quality education is so important,” he says of his vocation. “I was fortunate to have amazing herbal and medical science lecturers who really inspired me. Quality education and research allows us to continually evolve and improve how we offer health care, so for me it is really a mission of paying it forward and helping the next generation of naturopaths.”

These days, Ian enjoys the variety and opportunities that his career offers. 

“For part of the week, I’m writing lectures and teaching students, and a couple of days a week I see patients with heart disease and chronic inflammatory disorders. But on another day I’ll be part of a multi-disciplinary scientific committee or teaching pharmacists about natural therapies. Or I might be introducing health professionals to olive leaf and olive oil in health care, or touring olive groves, or presenting at a conference in Australia or overseas, or visiting a laboratory,” he says.

“There are so many possibilities and I feel fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had to work in so many different areas of naturopathy, and for the amazing colleagues I get to work with.”

Ian speaking at NHAA event

Ian speaking at NHAA’s 9th International Conference on Herbal Medicine

The future of Naturopathy in Australia

Ian thinks the future of Naturopathy in Australia is bright now that it’s moved into mainstream health science, and that the minimum education standard is now a Bachelor degree.

“People are recognising that quality health care is a team effort and naturopaths can be part of that team,” he says.

“We work with other health care workers to ensure the best care for our patients but there is so much more: some naturopaths work in community education, others develop new natural therapy products, some work in research. And the opportunities are only going to increase over the next few years.”

Hear more about Ian’s story

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