As was his nature, Samuel Hahnemann minced few words in describing his first hand observations of the treatment of the mentally ill. In a footnote to his Organon of the Medical Art, which was first published in 1810, he wrote:
One must be astonished at the hard-heartedness and indiscretion of physicians in several mental institutions. These cruel physicians, without seeking the true medical mode for such diseases…content themselves with tormenting these most pitiable of all human beings by means of the most violent beatings and other excruciating martyrdoms…. They lower themselves far beneath the level of prison guards, for prison guards execute such punishments only because it is the duty of their official position and do so upon criminals…1
It was, in fact, the plight of the mentally ill that was one of the main motivations for Hahnemann to create a radically different method of healing applicable to both physical and mental/emotional maladies. While, thankfully, a lot has changed since that time in regard to the general attitude toward and the treatment of the mentally ill, the insights of the founder of Homeopathy two centuries ago concerning the nature of mental illness are still very instructive.
Hahnemann categorized mental and emotional diseases as ‘one sided’ - meaning a type of illness where all the symptoms disappear except for a single main, prominent one. In these diseases, the main symptom expressed itself in the mental sphere, the disease itself was of the entire organism, both mental and physical.
Likewise, he insisted that, ‘in all the so-called somatic diseases…the mental and emotional frame of mind is always altered”. 2 It was his instruction that in the investigation of all disease conditions, the mental and emotional ones need to be thoroughly understood in order to get a true picture of the disease and to cure it.
Centuries before the term even existed, Hahnemann was truly a ‘wholistic practitioner’. No disease, he maintained, whether it manifested in one sphere or the other, could be properly understood or treated without comprehending that the mental/emotional and the soma (body) are always intimately interconnected.
Interestingly, it was his observation that often in ‘so-called somatic diseases’ (he repeatedly used this term to emphasize the fact that there is no such thing as purely somatic illness), when the condition becomes life threatening, there will occur an increase in emotional symptoms accompanied by a decrease in the physical symptoms. This is a way by which the organism holds onto life or as Hahnemann expresses it: “In a word, the maladies of the coarser bodily organs are transferred and diverted onto the almost spiritual, mental and emotional organs, which have never been reached, and are unreachable, by any dissecting scalpel.”3
My own personal understanding and observation is that there are a significant number of cases in which suppressive therapies of physical illness can stimulate much the same phenomenon, that is the transference of disease from the body to the mental/emotional sphere.
To manage these illnesses, it is necessary to use specific homeopathic remedies that match and quiet flare-ups of the acute symptoms of insanity, the ‘melancholia or frenzy’ that periodically arise. Once the state is calmed, a deeper acting remedy can be chosen.
The other main class of emotional disease does not originate from somatic illness, but is the result of ‘persistent worry, mortification, vexation, abuse, or repeated exposure to great fear or fright.’4 In contrast to the former group, these cases will respond to psychotherapeutic measures if they are relatively recent and have not yet affected the body.
Whether of one class or another, curative remedies for these diseases are chosen to address the entire organism, the characteristics of the mental/emotional state as well as the physical. (In order to adequately understand the physical side, it is necessary to investigate into the patient’s condition before the onset of the mental illness.)
In modern parlance, these are called ‘constitutional’ remedies, that is, medicines that take into account and treat the entire complex of the mental, emotional and physical state as well as the dispositions that led to the state.
1, 2, 3, 4: Hahnemann, Samuel. The Organon of the Medical Art, Aphorisms 228 edited by Wendy O’Reilly
The effective homeopathic treatment of mental illness is a challenging but often rewarding undertaking for patient and practitioner alike.
Ideally, homeopaths endeavor to find a single remedy, the constitutional remedy, which reflects the full nature of the patient and, in turn, successfully addresses all aspects of his or her disease. But as Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, wrote several hundred years ago, treatment will likely also demand the use of other remedies that reflect temporary acute states along with the constitutional.
In today’s world, there is the additional challenge of working with persons who are under the influence of conventional pharmaceutical medicines. Conventional drugs are in many ways a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, in severe conditions where there can be extreme or dangerous behavior, the drugs can reduce the symptoms and modify the behavior. The acute states will manifest less often, or not at all. This makes managing the case simpler and less stressful for the practitioner, and can allow the patient, in certain cases, to live a relatively functional life.
On the other hand, these drugs are rarely, if ever, curative. That is, the underlying state that caused the patient to manifest an ‘illness’ is not changed, only the outward manifestations of the illness are suppressed. So, without a potential cure, the patient is facing a life long regimen of medication, a pharmaceutical lobotomy in a sense.
Supervising medical professionals, although they may change the medications or the dosages, are for the most part resistant to withdrawing them altogether because they understand their prescriptions are not curative and they are always working under the threat of malpractice suits.
Of course, the medications themselves are usually toxic to the body, especially the liver, and cause other side-effects. Amongst a whole host of drug induced problems, patients can appear zombie-like, experience extreme muscle tightness that makes them appear as if in a straightjacket, develop an uncontrollable appetite, have shakes, tremors or twitches. These are all symptoms I have witnessed frequently.
For the homeopath, perceiving the underlying nature of the patient from which the illness arises is crucial, but differentiating between the manifestations induced by medication and the manifestations of the patient’s illness can be difficult. And if the drug regimen is heavy enough, the underlying state can be squelched to such an extent that neither patient nor prescriber can readily access it.
In addition, the removal or reduction in dosage of the drugs induces a withdrawal reaction as the body begins to detoxify. Patients can easily misinterpret this detoxification, often an unpleasant (to say the least) but positive sign that the body is cleansing itself, as an indication that they are still ill and should not or cannot get off the drug. This will create a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.
One of the greatest challenges to proper homeopathic treatment is the need to meet the demands of acute episodes appropriately. Communications between patient and practitioner as well as access to medicines must be timely. The telephone and internet make the former less of a problem than the latter. A phone consult might reveal that the patient needs to a different remedy for the time being, but if they live a distance away without access to that remedy at a local pharmacy or healthfood store (or if it is after hours), then it might be a day or more before the prescription can be filled.
Certainly, the existence of a homeopathic hospital would go a long way toward resolving these logistical issues. It would also provide a safe situation where a patient could temporarily withdraw from the stresses and constraints of interacting with the outer world and receive attention from qualified practitioners who could rapidly respond to his or her needs. Unfortunately, no such institutions have existed in this country for nearly a century.
Yet, in spite of all these obstacles, there are many cases in which the partnership between patient and homeopath can produce profoundly positive results. (If there is a truly supportive conventional medical practitioner involved, who are few and far between but do in fact exist, so much the better.) Sometimes the circumstances will allow for a reduction or elimination of medication, sometimes they may not, but either way the patient is unalterably changed for the better.