Homeopathy is a system of medicine that was developed 200 years ago by Samuel Hahnemann, a German doctor. The basic principle of homeopathy is that a substance that produces a set of symptoms in a healthy person can be used to cure a sick person who is showing a similar set of symptoms. Following this discovery in 1796 — which was, in fact, a method of treatment referred to in the writings of Hippocrates — Hahnemann spent the rest of his life experimenting, developing and refining this system until he was satisfied that it would be effective in both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-standing) illness.

At first, Hahnemann used normal doses of herbs and minerals for his patients but was worried at the increase in severity of their symptoms that these doses caused. He then discovered that he could dilute these substances whilst still retaining their medicinal effect, which reduced the danger to the patient. He then found that following dilution the medicinal effect could be enhanced by vigorous shaking and developed a particular method of preparation of remedies, which he referred to as “dynamisation.” This method of potentisation (as we call it today) involves a series of dilutions, with a number of vigorous agitations (called succussions) accompanying each step of dilution. These succussions appear to cause the energy of the original substance to be amplified throughout the solution and ensure the effectiveness of dilutions beyond the point at which there is no longer any measurable quantity of the original substance left for each dose. (We still don’t understand this yet but modern physics does offer some insight into how this may be possible, and recent research has shown differences between the properties of potentised versus simply diluted solutions.)

As most of the remedies used by homeopaths are potentised beyond the point at which a single molecule of the original substance remains in each drop of the solution, it follows that remedies cannot act by chemistry (the way that drugs work). When a dose of a potentised remedy is taken, it is the energy of the remedy that is recognised by the body and it is the body that then does the healing.

So how does homeopathy work? Hahnemann came to the conclusion that we have a “vital force” that is the intermediate agent between the spirit and body and is what gives our bodies life. When this is weakened, we experience disease (or ‘dis-ease’ with ourselves). As all diseases come from a disturbed state of energy, we can only expect to heal ourselves following the stimulus of an energised (potentised) medicine. However, Hahnemann’s observation was that a remedy would only work when its symptom picture (its effect on a healthy person) matched that of the sick person. It is crucial, therefore, that the energy pattern of the remedy is in tune with that of the patient so that the body can be stimulated to heal itself. (As an analogy, two sound sources producing the same note ‘in phase’ produce a louder note than that achieved by a single sound source; if the notes are ‘out of phase,’ they cancel each other out and nothing is heard [or the volume is greatly reduced].) It therefore follows that a remedy can only be called ‘homeopathic’ after it has worked – if it is not sufficiently similar to the patient, nothing happens.

This is, in fact, the definition of homeopathy. The word ‘homeopathy’ can be broken down into “Homeo” (or “homoeo”) meaning ‘similar’ and “pathy” meaning ‘suffering.’ The principle of Similars — that like cures like — is a paradox but has been shown to be consistently true by homeopaths across the world over the last 2 centuries.

Hahnemann reasoned that the only way that the vital force can show that it is weakened is by causing the body to produce symptoms. Symptoms are therefore the body’s way of communicating to us that something is wrong and it needs help to fix it. The conventional view is that symptoms are the problem and drugs are used to treat the symptoms. In holistic terms, this is shooting the messenger! We do not get sick unless there is a reason. This could be a sudden change in our circumstances or a longer-term exposure to something that we cannot effectively cope with. It is important, when considering treatment, to look at factors such as nutrition, lifestyle and environment. It may be that in addition to finding the appropriate remedy, changes need to be made in one or more of these factors. It may even be that an alternative therapy to homeopathy may be needed instead! The point of this is that we do not need to fear illness – it can usually teach us something about ourselves, if only we would listen! It also means that healing is our own responsibility – nobody else can do it for us!

Based on the above, if a homeopath is to prescribe for a chronic complaint it is important for them to obtain as complete a picture as possible about the person being treated. However, for acute conditions, knowing about the general state of the whole person is not necessarily appropriate! Nevertheless, sufficient detail concerning the acute state needs to be gathered for a remedy to be selected with confidence.

The key to successful homeopathic prescribing lies in paying close attention to symptoms so that the remedy that most closely matches those symptoms can be selected. This means not only considering those symptoms that we commonly present at the doctor’s (sore throat, stomach-ache, etc) but adding the detail of each symptom. The sore throat may then become “a sore, rough pain that feels like a splinter on swallowing, worse on the right side but better for warm drinks.” This is why the homeopath is interested in symptoms and details that a GP usually considers irrelevant.

Mary Halls

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