Homeopathy – treating the whole person
In October 1982, I made my way to the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital at Queen’s Square. It was autumn and there were beautiful brown leaves everywhere. Time to start studying homeopathy. I was soon introduced to my fellow students. There were eight of us, all doctors with an interesting path that had culminated in the beautiful wood-panelled room of the library of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. We would spend the next 6 months together studying homeopathy. Among these doctors was David Owen whose story you can also read here. Alice Greene was a registrar in the hospital having done the same course as us a little earlier. I determined to get stuck in to the subject matter and for the first time in my life I felt what a student is surely meant to feel – enthusiasm for the subject he is studying! Nobody pushed me. I studied out of pure passion and love of the subject. There was an examination waiting for me at the end of six months but I had no anxiety about that. If I could pass exams in subjects that were of peripheral interest to me, then what were the odds on me passing an exam in a subject I loved?
Homeopathy was the main focus, but I was interested in all forms of holistic medicine. I learned some rudimentary acupuncture; naturopathy (including fasting), Bach flower remedies, healing and hypnosis, but homeopathy remained my first love. I really appreciated the respect that homeopathy gave to the patient’s subjective experience of his illness and his life.
Conventional medicine never seem to be interested in how a patient felt about having asthma or any other debilitating illness. It was interested only in objective information, which could lead to an objective diagnosis, which could then be treated with medicines proven to be helpful to that condition by objective scientific tests. In practice this amounted to finding the right pigeonhole in which to put the patient and then applying the medicine usually given to everyone in that pigeonhole.
Now in many situations this is not a bad thing. If you have acute appendicitis you want it objectively diagnosed and treated with the standard treatment all appendicitis sufferers should get – surgery. The same goes for syphilis and pneumococcal meningitis, except in these conditions the treatment is penicillin. I’d spent enough time in the wards to know that there are times when orthodox medicine is capable of miraculous cures. The problem was that in everyday general practice these ‘miracle cures’ were only possible in a small minority of cases. The average patient was suffering from conditions that were not so easily eradicated by objective medical science. At last I was learning a new way of looking at the ‘average patient’ in a way that respected his or her individuality. This is not to say that good orthodox doctors do not respect their patients as individuals. They certainly do and our Uncle Louis was an excellent example of an orthodox doctor with a holistic approach, even though he did not use a holistic tool, like homeopathy which stimulates the body’s self-healing capacity.
Over the years many conventional doctors had described themselves as practising holistic medicine, but without using any form of alternative or complementary medicine. And it’s true; you can do this but you will be limited to a great degree by the tools at your disposal. One may have a whole person approach as an orthodox doctor and love your patients very much, but when it comes to using the tools of your trade, you will have to become objective, diagnose an illness and recommend the appropriate treatment. In my opinion a doctor becoming more holistic in his approach must acquire at least one holistic tool to use in practice. This could be acupuncture, naturopathy, hypnotherapy, counselling, autogenic therapy, meditation, yoga therapy or one of many others. A holistic tool can be defined as a therapeutic intervention aimed at the patient as a whole organism as well as at his or her symptoms. My choice of an holistic tool was homeopathy. I loved the fact that in homeopathy the patient’s subjective account of how he feels and how he got ill is the very essence of the knowledge the doctor needs to acquire in order to make an effective homeopathic prescription. Acupuncturists have the tongue and the pulses to turn to, but classical homeopaths are obliged to do their utmost to relate to their patients’ life stories in order to find the remedy that fits those stories.
In order to do this I began to see a film of my patient’s life story inside my head as he or she began to talk. Of course the film in my head was different to what had actually transpired in the patient’s life, but as I practiced this, I became better at it. I was able to know how accurate I was by asking a few straightforward questions. I studied the material medica (the medicines) of homeopathy every night for six months, as I knew this was the area they would test in the examination for membership of the Faculty of Homeopathy. For once I didn’t have to cram the knowledge into my head in a frenetic last minute rush. This time I knew I would pass and in March 1983, I did.
During my time at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, I had many good teachers. All had something to teach me. I learnt about: whole person homeopathy; the history and philosophy of homeopathy; the central text of homeopathy, The Organon; the anthroposophical approach and the fascinating interplay between homeopathy and mythology.