Homeopathy is a therapeutic technique developed and refined in Germany in the late 18th Century by physician Samuel Hahnemann. It is based on an idea that was practiced by healers as far back as Hippocrates. The idea that “like cures like” basically means that a stimulus that would cause a certain set of symptoms–a “disease”–in a healthy person, somehow “displaces” and resolves such a set of symptoms in a person suffering from them.
How it is Employed
For example, a homeopath evaluating a patient’s headaches would be interested in the peculiarities of the headaches that are unique to the case. The practitioner would also investigate other features of the patient: preference for heat or cold, temperament, aversions to and desires for certain foods, even seemingly unrelated symptoms such as digestive troubles, rashes, and so forth. Thus, several patients with headaches might each need different homeopathic medicines. Remedies are made from plants, minerals, animal substances and others.
Homeopaths are taught that all the systems of the body, and even the mind itself, are connected. So when presented with a person who is suffering from some problem, we want to know a lot about them. In regular medicine, doctors think of parts as separate, so for headaches they give a “headache medicine,” for an infection, and antibiotic, and so forth. This can be useful, but homeopaths think it wiser to try to help the body heal itself before we reach for medicines that suppress symptoms.
In homeopathy, each patient is considered unique. It is the peculiar features of a person’s complaint that leads the homeopath to the remedy that is right for that person. Thus, four people, each with headaches, might get four very different remedies, because remedies are given based each patient’s particular manifestations of a disease. One person’s headaches are caused by sunlight; another’s relieved by the warmth of the sun. Two different diseases. Two different remedies. A third person’s headache causes nausea, and the fourth’s actually is relieved by eating! Again, the homeopath pursues these differences and the patterns they demonstrate, to find the remedy that will relieve the entire imbalance that led to the problem.
Homeopathy can’t cure every condition. Like all types of medicine, homeopathy has limits. It works best for functional problems like asthma, headaches, infections, and so on. A catalogue of conditions can be found in (link to Conditions page). Structural problems may require surgery. Problems of organ failure like diabetes or low thyroid may require replacement of insulin or thyroid hormone, respectively. Even so, homeopathy given in addition may make such problems more stable and easier to manage with medication. Homeopathy cannot reverse “hardwired” genetic mishaps, like cerebral palsy or certain types of epilepsy. It can be used in with regular medicine, surgery and manipulative therapies. It excels in difficult conditions that respond poorly to traditional medicines, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis, headaches, menstrual complaints, and others.
Homeopathic medicines do not “interact” with traditional drug therapies. As improvements occur, the need for regular drug therapy may diminish or resolve. Consultation with a professional homeopath with traditional medical training can be of help. There are many styles of homeopathy. Each has varying support in the clinical literature of America, Europe, and India.
Styles of Homeopathy–Classical Homeopathy
Classical homeopathy is rigorous and time-consuming, most popular among American and British homeopaths. It holds that only one remedy is right for a patient at a given time in the course of the illness, and that all the problems of a patient at a given time are connected–that they are all manifestations of the same imbalance. Remedies are prescribed infrequently, and given much time to act.
Other Styles of Homeopathy
Combination remedies are popular, and are promoted upon the notion that only the “right” remedy will act, and by giving several remedies in one tablet or liquid, common conditions can be addressed simply and cheaply. This approach works about half the time, and sometimes at higher rates than that. Electrovoltaic Testing (EVT) is a technique used to appreciate the indicated remedy without the labor of a one- to two-hour history. It has poor support in the literature, but some patients will benefit. Organotherapy analyzes patterns of symptoms and uses certain homeopathically-prepared remedies in prescribed patterns to promote “drainage” of certain organ systems. Positive outcome literature that meets rigorous standards is sparse. Gemmotherapy is similar, but the remedies are prepared from embryonic tissues such as plant shoots. Isotherapy is a technique which took the concept of homeopathy to its ultimate conclusion: medicines prepared from the sick person or from pathologic substances. Clinical outcomes have been mixed. Schuessler Salts are a fixed-set of remedies that presumably order the body and protect it from toxic influences and promote good health. Generally “low potency,” these “cell salts” are included in the homeopathic pharmacopoeia, but are used in a non-individualized manner, unlike the classical homeopathic approach. Finally, homeotherapeutics is a system now widely used in Europe that seeks to collapse common conditions into sets of 10 or 20 remedies that generally relieve the conditions presenting. It is a system that trades some specificity and clinical power for speed and efficiency. It can be useful when properly understood and employed.
How Does Homeopathy Work?
In truth, we don’t know how homeopathy works. Some detractors argue that patients get better from homeopathic treatment because of the “placebo effect,” but we have observed that homeopathy doesn’t seem to follow the rules governing placebo effects. Scottish physician and researcher David Reilly, himself a homeopath, admits that some positive effects arise from the intense “therapeutic encounter” in classical homeopathy, in which the practitioner uses many questions to probe the full dimension of the patient, but that these effects also do not explain everything we see when we use homeopathy. Researcher Klaus Linde and his colleagues reported in 1998, “The results of our…analysis [of studies of homeopathy] are not compatible with the hypothesis that…effects…are…due to placebo.” Basically, that means that, yes, homeopathy is weird, but it seems to work. A later analysis of all the clinical studies of homeopathy by Dr. Robert Hahn in Sweden in 2013 found that studies that argue that homeopathy doesn’t work have required researchers to discard 90% of the available research into homeopathy. Although we don’t really know why homeopathy works, recent advances in physics and chemistry suggest that mechanisms for homeopathy’s efficacy may exist.
For me, Hahnemann’s discovery was an accident that found a fertile and attentive mind. His work, and the work of his successors, was to observe the effects and to build upon each discovery until we knew enough to understand that “like cures like” and that all symptoms relate to the same “disease,” unique to each patient. We will have to leave it to our successors to understand how homeopathy–and other systems of “energy medicine”–work.
After we give the remedy, we wait. The analogy I like to use these days is that a remedy is like “re-booting” a computer. The person’s system is trying to respond to stresses adaptively, but isn’t able to do so because the commands are working at cross purposes. One way to look at it is that the remedy reloads the baseline commands that operate the system, so that conflicting signals grow quiet, and the person’s system can respond to the world in a healthy, adaptive way. In short, the symptoms go away, because there is no “disease” anymore.
Homeopathic remedies are intended to create the conditions in your body to allow healing to occur. The idea is that your body has the physiological “wisdom” to correct what is causing your problem(s), and the properly-selected remedy will help that process to begin. Sometimes an aggravation of symptoms may occur. It is normal and should be of short duration. If your symptoms worsen and you are concerned about it, please contact the homeopath. A normal aggravation usually passes in a day or two, rarely longer.
Most times a remedy will act over weeks and months. Expect the change to be gradual for chronic conditions; change is more rapid in acute diseases. Try not to be discouraged if it seems like improvement is slow. Remember, you may have been ill for a long time; it may take a while to get well. Generally, symptoms resolve in the following order.
1) Most life-threatening to least threatening
2) Most recent symptoms first then older symptoms later
3) Mental-emotional symptoms usually resolve earlier than more physical symptoms
4) Deeper, more interior problems before surface problems (such as rashes)
Healing from homeopathy is usually permanent. Once you’re doing well, the remedy may need to be repeated once in a while, or it may never need to be repeated. Old symptoms from long ago may arise, suggesting a new remedy is needed. This is more common in people from industrialized and urban countries.
You Tube Videos
Videos on Homeopathy, at YouTube: By Dana Ullman, Homeopathic Educator