Homeopathy & the Highest Ideals of Treatment
This article continues a series of short essays focused on particular principles that are important in homeopathy, and how I as a homeopath demonstrate them. These principles are not exclusive to homeopathy, but I think it is the collection of all these principles together that makes homeopathy a very special health practice. Archived copies of previous articles in this series can be found to the left filed under 'previous articles.'
How Hahnemann saw it
The Organon of Medicine was written by Samuel Hahnemann (the father of homeopathy) to layout the foundations of a new holistic health system. His principles continue to this day to define homeopathy and how it should be practiced. An English translation (from German) of the final 6th edition can be found at http://organonofmedicine.com/. Completed in 1842 and published posthumously in 1921, the Organon has old style language that is not easy to grasp at first.
Hahnemann begins his Organon …
§1 : The physician's high and only mission is to restore the sick to health, to cure, as it is termed.
§2 : The highest ideal of cure is rapid, gentle and permanent restoration of the health, or removal and annihilation of the disease in its whole extent, in the shortest, most reliable, and most harmless way, on easily comprehensible principles.
Modern homeopaths interpret Hahnemann to mean that a health practioner’s role is to restore holistic health to their client as quickly as possible with the least amount of intervention as possible using a rational, systematic and replicable approach.
In writing his aphorisms above, Hahnemann was critiquing the health procedures of his day. Hahnemann trained as a physician and during his lifetime (1755-1843), health care included practices were often done without sensible therapeutic reasons that Hahnemann observed created more harm than good for his patients. Bloodletting and prescribing high doses of heavy metals and toxic purgatives are just a few well-known examples of these dubious procedures which we, too, would consider extremely unsafe. In challenging the status quo, Hahnemann was driven to develop an alternative approach – one that placed effectiveness, safety, gentleness, rapidity, person-centred individualisation and rational whole-of-system approach as the prime and essential principles by which he (and homeopaths since) must practice.
Certainly, conventional medicine has come a long way since Hahnemann’s day and the Hippocratic Oath that doctors affirm ("First, do no harm") acknowledges this progress. Nevertheless, pharmaceuticals (especially those developed for long-term, chronic diseases) often come with a long list of negative side-effects which are inimical to a patient's holistic health (see the article Homeopathy & Holistic Treatment also in this series).
The highest ideals of the homeopathic practioner
Hahnemann continues …
§3 : If the physician clearly perceives what is to be cured in diseases, that is to say, in every individual case of disease (knowledge of disease, indication), if he clearly perceives what is curative in medicines, that is to say, in each individual medicine (knowledge of medical powers), and if he knows how to adapt, according to clearly defined principles, what is curative in medicines to what he has discovered to be undoubtedly morbid in the patient, so that the recovery must ensue – to adapt it, as well in respect to the suitability of the medicine most appropriate according to its mode of action to the case before him (choice of the remedy, the medicine indicated), as also in respect to the exact mode of preparation and quantity of it required (proper dose), and the proper period for repeating the dose; – if, finally, he knows the obstacles to recovery in each case and is aware how to remove them, so that the restoration may be permanent, then he understands how to treat judiciously and rationally, and he is a true practitioner of the healing art.
§4 : He is likewise a preserver of health if he knows the things that derange health and cause disease, and how to remove them from persons in health.
Here, Hahnemann is saying that a homeopath's role is five-fold. They should:
(1) Learn what is unhealthy in the client in the first place –
Each of us is a complex system of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components interacting exquisitely together as a whole, dynamic person. Ill-health happens when one or more of these components no longer works or interacts as it should, thus disrupting the function of the system as a whole. Being dynamic, our complex system tries to compensate to re-balance itself. This in turn may impact other system components, resulting in a range of symptoms that can differ from person to person (even though they might each present with the same illness).
In trying to understand what is going wrong for an unwell client, a homeopath doesn’t just look at the symptoms of a single system component. Instead, they study the person’s whole-of-system, including the context in which that person lives and works. Homeopaths do this by gathering the range of symptoms that the client presents or discusses at all levels (physical symptoms throughout the body, as well as, thoughts and feelings). Doing this builds a unique symptom picture for that particular individual.
Achieving a good symptom picture requires time -- it is common for initial consultations to take 45 to 90 minutes and for the homeopath to do further study and reflection afterwards – and careful attention and listening to what a client says (as well as what they mean when they say something). Nothing is considered trivial. Often homeopaths hear from clients, “My health professional dismissed me, saying this is just all in my head. You take me seriously.”
(2) Recommend the right therapeutic –
Just as a symptom picture is developed for an individual person, a remedy picture is developed for a substance that will be used as a homeopathic remedy (or therapeutic). This is done through a systematic process called a proving (from the German word prüfen which means to examine or test). In a proving, a known substance is given to a group of healthy individuals who all record what effects or changes each of them experience. These recordings build up a database of unique sets of whole-of-system symptoms caused by tested substances.
When a client presents with their particular symptom picture, a homeopath tries to best match this with one of 4,000+ known remedy pictures (homeo pathy = similar pathology). In this way, each client is treated as a whole and individual case study.
(3) Use the proper dose for the client and their particular situation –
Rapidly returning a person to health (effectiveness) while being gentle and safe is a balancing art. A client’s energetic state and situation is taken into account when choosing the potency (or strength) of a remedy and frequency of repetition to be administered. For example, a client who is tired with an achy flu will need a low potency remedy repeated infrequently. This contrasts with a child who has a burning fever needing a high potency remedy with very frequent repetitions until their temperature drops.
For complicated or long-term chronic conditions, homeopaths try to anticipate how the pathway back to good health may play out, and adjusts their prescriptions accordingly. For example, an effective treatment for hay fever might require treatment with two or more remedies over several seasons until the person is trouble-free.
(4) Consider obstacles or maintaining influences that might limit effective treatment –
Homeopaths must also to be aware of the things that could counter an otherwise effective prescription. Poor nutrition or unsanitary, overcrowded and poorly heated houses can maintain (and more likely exacerbate) ill-health. So too can chronic stress like an unhappy or abusive home life or difficult work situations. Self-medicating with alcohol, smoking or recreational drugs may initially feel to someone like a good coping mechanism, but these have long-term consequences to their overall mental and physical health.
Sometimes homeopaths need to give advice beyond a typical homeopathic prescription (where they are qualified and competent to do so). Or they may need to take an integrative healthcare approach and refer the client to other types of health professionals. In some situations, a first well-chosen homeopathic remedy can stimulate enough healing in a person that they begin to make better life choices (how they live, eat or who they have relationships with) and the other obstacles begin to fall away.
(5) Recommend preventative measures –
Finally, homeopaths should help their clients to actively maintain their and their family’s own health – whether through prevention or self-help in cases of simple, self-limiting illnesses. The old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is golden.
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