Homeopathic treatment offers anyone in need of health care the potential of a deep and lasting cure. Our personal experiences as students, patients and practitioners of homeopathy has shown over and over again that it can promote dramatic changes on the physical, emotional and mental levels. Very few methods of health care can offer such a profound hope to the prospective patient.
Homeopathy has a unique set of principles which forms the basis of its application as a healing art. It also possesses a rich history as well as an international tradition that provides an enormous background of data and experience to guide the practitioner.
Long term positive results can best be expected when treatment is carried out in accordance with these tenets and based on the accumulated experience of countless homeopaths and their patients over the last two hundred years. Often, our common attitudes towards illness and the conventional wisdom of modern medicine differ drastically from the homeopathic perspective. It is essential for both the patient and practitioner not to lose sight of these differences so they can hold fast to a curative course of treatment.
This document presents the theoretical and historical aspects of homeopathy. By becoming familiar with this information, the coherence and logic of the system will become clearer. In turn, this will allow those new to homeopathy to feel more at ease.
Let us begin by looking at the underlying ideas that define homeopathy. The people who discovered and developed homeopathy created a theoretical foundation based on scientific experiments and experience in treating the sick. Their observations on the nature of illness, medicines, and cure were formulated into the following five principles:
The discovery of homeopathy dates back to the late eighteenth century when a leading physician in Germany named Samuel Hahnemann performed a very simple experiment. At that time, medicine was neither very systematic nor very effective in healing the sick. Hahnemann was disillusioned by the state of his profession and devoted most of his efforts to the translation of medical texts.
When translating a particular English medical book, he came across a passage which stated that a certain herbal substance was beneficial in treating malaria because it had “bitter properties”. The substance, peruvian bark, is rich in quinine and still is the source for this well known anti-malarial drug. There was little doubt that peruvian bark was indeed effective in the treatment of malaria, but Hahnemann rejected the explanation that the “bitter properties” were the reason. After all, aren’t there many other substances that taste bitter which have no effect against malaria?
So Hahnemann reasoned that perhaps it would be possible to learn about the nature of this peruvian bark if he himself, as a healthy person, ingested it. The result was that Hahnemann temporarily felt as though he had malaria-like symptoms. He then reasoned that if a healthy person suffers from certain symptoms after taking a particular substance, then a sick person who naturally has similar symptoms will be cured by that same substance. This is otherwise known by the phrase “like cures like”. This principle forms the basis of homeopathy, and in fact, is the basis of the name “homeo” meaning “similar”, and “pathos” meaning “disease”.
As Hahnemann tested this concept, he and a growing number of students began to do “provings” with various substances. That is, they would adminster a particular substance, for instance the element sulphur, in varying doses to a large number of healthy persons. Then over a long period of time, they would record the symptoms that arose in these people as a result of ingesting it. The symptoms were of both an objective nature, such as skin rashes or diarrhea, and a subjective one, like feeling angry or not being able to concentrate. The history of homeopathy, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is full of these provings performed with thousands of substances. An enormous literature was filled with the findings of the provings.
The study of homeopathy is based on becoming familiar with the provings and recognizing that the set of symptoms that a patient has is similar to the symptoms that were created during the proving of a particular substance.
As Hahnemann began to conduct provings and use medicines according to the Law of Similars, he recognized that the dosage of the substances he used often created very severe toxic reactions in the provers (i.e. those who were the subjects of the provings) and patients. He therefore began to dilute the medicines to avoid these reactions. This led to another important discovery. The more the medicines were diluted, the gentler and more effective were their curative action. It seemed as if the dilute forms of these substances acted at a deeper level in the body.
In fact, it is more than a simple dilution process by which the homeopathic remedies are made. One part of the original form of the substance is first diluted in ninety-nine drops of water and/or alcohol. Then it is shaken vigorously. The shaking is called succussion and the entire procedure is termed “potentization”; the remedy is made potent by the process. This first generation of the remedy is called a 1C (or centesimal). A further generation is created when one drop of the 1C solution is diluted in ninety-nine drops of water and/or alcohol and succussed again. This is the 2C “potency”.
It is easy to see that after carrying out this process a few times, there is little or nothing left of the original substance. Homeopaths use potencies that range from 3C all the way to the CM – or one hundred thousandth generation of succussion. Clearly, the action of a homeopathic remedy goes beyond chemical reactions and physical substance as we commonly understand it.
Hahnemann and his followers believed that the essential nature of a living being was not to be found in the physical tissues and organs of the body. Homeopaths perceived an intelligence, variously called “the dynamic principle” or “vital principle,” “the dynamis” or “vital force,” which was responsible for the coordination and activities of life.
This idea was and is actually very popular in many traditional cultures. In the modern world, though, we are accustomed to considering the physical world as a purely material one. Everything else is part of the non-scientific spiritual realm. As a modern “science,” conventional medicine conceptualizes and analyzes human life as a set of material functions seated in physical tissues.
Nothing can so clearly illustrate the difference between these two points of view as the matter of life and death itself. The legal and medical worlds increasingly struggle with the definition of death based on physical functions alone. The experts must determine which organ and what physiological function holds the kernel of life. Is it the brain, and if so what part of the brain? Or is it the heart and circulatory function or the lungs and respiration? Actually the determination is impossible and, ultimately, the decision is arbitrary. But the layperson, relative, or close friend, can often sense when the real life has gone out of a body. It is not a matter of the brain or heart still functioning, but one of the vitality and responsiveness that defines life.
To the homeopath, symptoms are an expression of the vital force of a person. They surface as an attempt by the vital force to stabilize or cleanse the entire system when it becomes disordered, but they are not the disorder itself. Ideally, when the system is adequately stabilized or cleansed the symptoms disappear.
But this is not always the case. Sometimes in long term or inherited conditions, the best the vital force can do is to maintain a semblance of balance by manifesting symptoms in the outer areas or relatively less important parts of the body. This condition is called a chronic disease. It does not resolve on its own without some assistance from the vital force. The weaker the vital force becomes, the closer the symptoms approach the interior and more important parts of the body. A common example of this phenomena is arthritis. The condition often begins in the smaller joints of the extremeties. Usually, it will not resolve on its own. As long as the vital force is strong, the symptoms will not change very dramatically. But when the vitality weakens, the arthritis will become more painful, spread to larger joints, and perhaps progress to the point where the heart and lungs become involved.
But symptoms are not the only way in which a homeopath becomes familiar with the vital force of a patient. The nature of the vital force also manifests itself in a myriad of traits, habits, or signs in every individual. These might include the types of food that a person might like or dislike, the nature and position of sleep, the temperament of the patient, and a host of other details that seem otherwise insignificant to the problem at hand. The more particular the information or the more peculiar the trait, the more is understood about the vital force. The homeopath seeks out the characteristics that are special and unique to that person, in order to understand the nature of his/her vital force.
Typically, a person comes to a health care practitioner with a symptom or set of symptoms from which he/she seeks relief. Conventional medicine focuses only on those symptoms along with the area in which the symptoms appear. The assumption is that the symptoms point toward a disease residing in a certain part or system of the body. It follows that the eradication of symptoms means the eradication of the disease, and that constitutes a cure. When a person complains of joint pains in the hands, this indicates that an inflammatory process is occurring. The disease is called “arthritis” and is deemed cured when the pains and inflammation subside.
The homeopathic approach only just begins with the main complaints of the patient. It then extends into an investigation of the vital force, exploring every aspect of it – whether or not there is an obvious relationship with the complaints themselves. Once the nature of the vital force is perceived, a suitable remedy is chosen which will invigorate it. The end result will be that not only are the symptoms thrown off, but that the person feels generally healthier and more energetic. Oftentimes, a person will express this as “a sense of well-being.” It is an intangible feeling that comes about when the vital force is strengthened.
Hahnemann meticulously observed and recorded his findings throughout his long career. Though the discipline he founded appears subtle in theory and application, his method was firmly grounded in experience and fact. He was adamant that a clear picture of the effects of a homeopathic remedy can be perceived only if one individual remedy is given at a time. By using multiple remedies the Law of Similars is no longer applicable and the basic tenets of homeopathy are discarded. Even in acute problems when remedies may be changed several times within an hour, it is essential that they be given in sequence so that the action of one remedy be evaluated before proceeding to the next. When faced with uncertainties about which remedy to choose, every practitioner feels the temptation to administer all the possibilities together. But the interaction of the multiple remedies is unknown and the response of the vital force to the mixture becomes unclear.
Modern science cannot explain these principles based on our present day understanding of the laws of biochemistry and pharmacology. This leads some to criticize homeopathy as unscientific. But the facts are objective and the principles of homeopathy are founded on empirical observations. A huge amount of organized data and the experience of many thousands of people support the findings. The theory of homeopathy has an internal coherence and logic of its own. Moreover, we cannot overlook the most important fact that daily, throughout the world, people are helped through homeopathy.
It is natural to criticize something that is difficult to understand. I am reminded of the story about some missionaries who went to China during the last century. They reported back that their study of the Chinese language showed that it was essentially without a grammar. The framework of Oriental language was so foreign to their experience that they could only imagine an entire nation must be speaking a disorganized jibberish. They did not perceive the sophisticated grammatical structure of Chinese, and had no idea that the Chinese had a rich literary tradition dating back thousands of years.
Hahnemann’s original experiment with peruvian bark in Germany dates back to 1790. As he continued his research and began to treat patients according to the newly discovered principles, a group of students started to form around him. Over a period of several decades, homeopathy spread across much of Europe and its colonies throughout the world. European homeopaths introduced it in the United States in the 1820′s.¹
During the major cholera epidemics of the first half of the nineteenth century, homeopathic treatment was far more successful than the conventional medicine of the day in reducing fatalities, which helped to establish homeopathy as a major force in the medical world. Eventually, many medical colleges and hospitals dedicated to the use of homeopathy were established. Around the turn of the last century, there were twenty-two homeopathic medical schools and one hundred homeopathic hospitals in the United States alone.²
That period was really the golden era of homeopathy in this country, especially in the Northeast. It enjoyed immense popularity especially among the educated populations in the major eastern cities where, according to some estimates, one in every four medical doctors was a homeopath. Many of the greatest homeopathic practitioners and thinkers whose legacy has profoundly influenced the evolution of homeopathy were the product of this period.
Threatened by the growing popularity of homeopathy, conventional practitioners organized themselves against further development of the homeopathic movement. Hence, the American Medical Association was created in 1846.³ Not only were homeopaths excluded from the organization, but for a full fifty years any physician who consulted or associated with homeopaths lost his membership. Homeopathy was also not popular with the pharmaceutical industry. Ever since the early days of Hahnemann, pharmacists felt threatened by the economic implications of homeopathic dilutions which are inexpensive to make.
The culmination of these efforts to discredit homeopathy came in the form of an analysis of the state of medical education in the United States published in 1910, known as the Flexner Report. The criteria for the evaluation was heavily biased against the homeopathic schools, and they subsequently lost their accreditation.
Along with this, there was also internal dissension between various factions of homeopathic practitioners. The main division was between high potency prescribers working from a constitutional perspective and low potency prescribers treating from a perspective closer to conventional medicine. Without a united, coherent philosophy the movement began to fall into disarray and was easy prey to detractors. Within a period of twenty years homeopathy was reduced to a mere footnote in the history of medicine in the United States.
Fortunately, though, the final chapter has still not been written. Homeopathy has continued to flourish elsewhere in the world. There are strong traditions alive throughout much of Europe, India and South America. With the emergence of interest in natural healing systems that have developed in this country over the last twenty-five years, homeopaths from abroad have found an entire new generation of appreciative students eager to revive the nearly dormant tradition. Today, a growing number of practitioners from all health care fields, along with a large number of lay people, are leading the renaissance of homeopathy in the United States. High quality homeopathic training programs and schools are becoming increasingly widespread, homeopathic journals are again flourishing, and publicity through the national media is on the rise. Even the National Institute of Health has begun to focus attention on homeopathy through the establishment of a committee to evaluate the usefulness of non-conventional methods of medicine.
¹Ullman, Dana. Discovering Homeopathy. 37
Over the years many schools of homeopathic practice have come into existence. Some adhere strictly to the original principles laid down by Hahnemann, while others have explored different methods of utilizing homeopathic remedies such as prescribing two or more remedies to be alternated or taken simultaneously, testing the compatibility of remedies with patients by electrical devices, or using needles to inject solutions containing homeopathic preparations.
Homeopathy is a rigorous discipline that demands both years of immersion and a commitment to its philosophy. Choosing a single remedy that is the most appropriate in any given situation can be very difficult. It depends on the practitioner’s understanding of which symptoms are the most significant.
Remedy selection based on the most distinct, individual symptoms that are truly characteristic of the patient – whether or not they are related to the chief complaint – is often called “constitutional” prescribing. The emphasis is placed on the nature or constitution of the patient.
As an example, ten patients all diagnosed with asthma could very well be given ten different remedies. Although the symptoms relating to their breathing might seem quite similar, it is the differences which are most important for the homeopath. One person may have asthma attacks in the middle of the night, while another is aggravated on waking in the morning. One person may have developed it after birth, while another after the death of a loved one. One person will feel better in the open air while another is sensitive to drafts of wind.
Likewise, the nature of these patients beyond the asthma will also be different. One person may feel very chilly while another is hot blooded. One person may have a very mild, weepy temperament, another is irritable or abrasive and yet another is withdrawn and depressed. One person may desire very spicy and rich food, another salty and a third sweet.
In constitutional homeopathy, the various bits of information about every aspect of the patient are used as pieces of a puzzle that fit together. The result is a homeopathic picture of their nature and the selection of a remedy that matches the picture.
On the other hand, there are practitioners who only prescribe according to the remedy that best fits the chief complaint. A variation on this method is to prescribe remedies to strengthen a particular organ or system in the body. Although these practitioners employ homeopathic remedies, their model is more akin to a conventional medical approach. They are less concerned with the manifestations and movements of the vital force than with the symptoms themselves and the physical structure of the body. This type of method often leads to the variant forms of homeopathy mentioned above.
Different homeopaths use different remedy potencies according to their experience and understanding of the case. Some prefer to begin a case with the low potencies, 6C or 12C, and slowly work up to the higher potencies. Some will usually begin a case with a 200C, 1M or 10m.
It can be generally stated, though, that in cases where there is a history or current use of medication, or where the vitality of the patient is low or the remedy choice is not absolutely certain, then a lower potency will generally be chosen to start the case. Likewise, in very vital people with a clear case, and little or no history of medications, higher potencies are often used.
Homeopathic treatment does not call for sophisticated lab tests or equipment. Although information garnered from conventional diagnostic procedures may be essential to make an appropriate diagnosis and serve as a helpful reference, the interview itself is the main diagnostic tool and requires nothing more than two people meeting each other. The low-tech nature of homeopathy allows it to be not only economical but also quite accessible. Since special facilities are not needed, professionals as well as lay persons can “do” homeopathy just about any place at any time.
Although remedies can also be made by the individual practitioner, most homeopaths rely on remedies purchased from homeopathic pharmacies. In rare cases it may be necessary to make a remedy out of a medication or other substance that is not normally prepared by these pharmacies. There are approximately half a dozen major homeopathic pharmacies and many smaller ones that distribute to both professionals and lay persons in this country.
The remedies come in either liquid or pellet form. Pellets are made of lactose or sucrose while the drops are alcohol dilutions. Liquids either come in high alcohol dilutions that are kept as stock bottles from which the practitioner medicates vials of neutral pellets or in lower dilutions which are directly given to the patient.
Aside from personal experience and memory, the chief tools to assist the homeopath in selecting a remedy are several types of reference works. The first is a repertory. In this book symptoms are listed in an organized fashion which facilitates quick reference. Under each symptom is a group of remedies that have been found through the provings or through clinical experience to be effective for that symptom. The second type of book is a materia medica which essentially works in the opposite direction of a repertory. It is broken down according to different remedies, providing signs and symptoms pertinent to each one.
Another type of clinical reference material is organized according to diseases or syndromes. Under each heading there is a list of a group of remedies and the chief indications that differentiates each remedy for that particular illness. Although very useful in certain situations, these “differential” books can encourage a person to become a routine prescriber choosing remedies according to diseases and not according to the individuality of the patient. Many of the books for beginners fall into this category.
Lastly, there are books on the philosophy and principles of homeopathy. Chief among them is the Organon of Medicine by Hahnemann. Though rarely consulted in clinical situations, these works form a theoretical basis without which it would be impossible to practice homeopathy.
The most recent addition to the repertoire of clinical tools for the practicing homeopath is the computer. There are several programs now enjoying widespread use which are basically computerized repertories and materia medicas. The technology facilitates the creation of ‘super-repertories’ which combines the information from many different sources. It allows the user to call up information at rapid speed, conduct searches for information on rare remedies or symptoms, and analyze cases from many different angles. As helpful as this may be, the computer still cannot replace the intuitive judgments, experience and decision making processes of a good homeopath. If a group of symptoms are indiscriminately fed into the computer, the resulting analysis will usually be of little value. This simply emphasizes the fact that the key to selecting the correct remedy lies in an ability to elicit the significant information from the patient and then discriminate which are the characteristic symptoms of the case.
Homeopaths are trained to look at a person’s health history as an evolution of the expression of the vital force. Symptoms, illnesses and their treatment, along with a history of emotional traumas or griefs during an earlier period of life, are understood to have a vital impact on the current state of health.
Sometimes a symptom that was eliminated by an operation or strong medication, or a strong emotion that was never expressed, will be transformed into a deeper level of disease in the person. This phenomena is called “suppression.” In our present society, suppression is a very frequent phenomenon.
The most typical cases involve skin diseases – rashes, eczema, psoriasis or acne – that have been treated with topical ointments. Sometime later, a chronic allergy or respiratory problem may occur. When that is treated conventionally, the vital force expresses itself through yet another disease. And so, years later, a deep-seated chronic condition is established.
Under homeopathic care, such cases often begin to reverse themselves. An asthmatic patient will notice an old skin rash reappear as his or her breathing improves. Or, a person with migraines relives a grief that was never expressed. Although this may cause consternation in the patient, it really is a sign that the case is moving forward.
Long before the discovery of genes, DNA and modern genetic science, Hahnemann had already investigated the question of an inherited disposition toward disease. Characteristically, his research was less concerned with theoretical abstractions than with an explanation of clinical observations.
His exploration of inheritance began when some of his patients did not respond as expected to homeopathic treatment. Either the remedies would have little effect, or else the patient would get better and then relapse repeatedly. Hahnemann was certain that these patients had been given the appropriate remedies, so he realized that some other factor must be disrupting the healing process.
For twelve years, Hahnemann delved into the records of his patients, studying their diseases, symptoms and family histories. He began to recognize certain types of problems and clusters of symptoms that repeatedly cropped up in the difficult cases which did not respond to treatment. He also correlated these syndromes with particular familial traits and histories. Consequently, Hahnemann was able to distinguish several patterns of symptoms, behavior and illness that were commonly passed down from parent to offspring.
Today, when taking a case, homeopaths are aware that certain symptoms, especially in conjunction with particular familial histories, signify an inheritied disposition toward disease. For instance, serrated teeth, many warts or moles, a history of alcoholism, or eczema all suggest the possibility of different inherited tendencies. Likewise, when a group of symptoms such as a skin sensitivity to wool, psoriasis, strong smelling perspiration, and a family history of skin problems are found together in one person, this strongly suggests that the person has a particular inherited pattern.
These patterns are called “miasms.” In his time Hahnemann was able to identify three distinct patterns of inherited tendencies to disease. Later two more miasms were also discovered. It is very possible that in the future other miasmic patterns will also be identified.
It is interesting to note that the recognized miasms are all related to different diseases. The five classical miasms are connected to skin disease, two types of veneral disease, tuberculosis and cancer. The idea is that somewhere in the genealogy of a particular person, be it one, five or a hundred generations ago, a disease was present in either an active or latent form when that ancestor procreated.
This information was then passed on to the next generation where it remained in either an active or latent form. The significance of this is that when diseases are inadequately treated or else treated with suppressive measures, it not only influences the health of the patient but also the health of coming generations. What is passed on to future generations is not the disease itself, but a certain weakness of the vital force which predisposes them to certain types of illness.
As an example, for someone to inherit the tubercular miasm, there probably was a history of tuberculosis in the family. But this person most likely will not suffer from tuberculosis iself. Instead, he/she will typically tend toward allergies, repeated respiratory problems like bronchitis or asthma, and other more peculiar symptoms like a strong craving for milk, irregular or crowded teeth, night sweats, diarrhea, and irritability.
Even though many people show signs of miasmic influences, all them do not actively suffer from it. The tendency can be present, but dormant, as though it was lying quietly in the background. In this latent form, the miasm may show little or no sign of disturbing the vital force. If the miasm is active, it disrupts the vital force. Then the health of the patient is impacted. A latent tendency can be activated due to a stressor such as a grief, physical trauma or infection. It is also possible to find more complicated cases where more than one miasm is present.
Each miasm is associated with a group of remedies which have been shown by their provings to be curative of the symptoms peculiar to that miasm. When a patient exhibits the signs indicative of one or more miasmic tendencies, the prescribing homeopath must begin to consider using an appropriate miasmic remedy sometime during the course of treatment.
There are differing approaches to the use of miasmic remedies. Generally speaking, the prescriber must look for the individual characteristic symptoms particular to that person. If these symptoms are miasmic in nature, then it is appropriate to use a miasmic remedy. Routine prescription of miasmic remedies without related symptoms appearing in the picture of the patient is usually inappropriate and can even be harmful.
Children often derive enormous benefits from homeopathic treatment. In acute cases, the remedies can sometimes act with breathtaking speed to reduce fevers, stop coughs or clear an earache. The use of strong medications which can have negative effects on the immune system, digestive tract and other parts of the body can also be avoided very frequently. When an appropriate constitutional remedy is prescribed, it is not infrequent to find that the child’s whole being – physical, emotional and mental – seems stronger after several months. There is a great satisfaction for both the parents and practitioner to see that the course they mutually pursued is having a positive effect which very possibly will carry through the entire life of the child.
The process of prescribing for a child is essentially the same as for an adult. The same type of information is needed and the same principles apply. The major difference is that the practitioner often cannot rely on information verbally communicated by children. Instead, it is through the observation of behavior that the homeopath picks up clues to the important symptoms in the case and develops an understanding of the temperament of a particular child.
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