Talking to patients: Counselling and psychotherapy
After qualifying as a ‘homeopathic doctor’ (MFHom – member of the faculty of homeopathy) I soon realised that I knew very little homeopathy! Sure I had some theoretical knowledge, but would you allow yourself to be operated on by a surgeon who only knew the theory of a particular operation?
I decided I needed more training. As the doctor-patient relationship was always my first love in medicine, I enrolled on a course of Rogerian counselling run by a London University. It was one of the finest things I ever did for myself. Suddenly the therapist-client relationship was centre stage! Rogers’ great contribution to the world of psychotherapy was this: Results in therapy are less dependent on the psychological theory in the mind of the therapist and more dependent on the very presence of the therapist. In particular the therapist should endeavour to bring three qualities to the consulting room. Warmth, Understanding and Authenticity. The problem is that you can’t really act any of these – you have to be them. I grappled with this and found myself making a crucial decision about my career as a doctor. From then on I knew that I would not be doing my job well if I simply walked into the consulting room and made available to the patient everything I’d learned at medical school. That simply wasn’t good enough. Not for me and and not for my patients. No, I would have to make available everything I had learned about this thing we call life. Everything I’d learned from textbooks and everything I’d learned from living itself. Even from painful experiences; especially from painful personal experiences! It was a big decision but one which brought considerable relief to me. At last I felt as if I was heading in the right direction, in the direction of becoming myself. Or as Rogers might put it ‘on becoming a person’.
In addition to this course I also came to hear of the great classical homeopath, Mr George Vithoulkas. Although not a doctor himself, for the best part of 20 years he had supervised a crack team of medical doctors studying homeopathy in Athens. His prowess as an accurate prescriber was legendary. However what impressed me about him was his holistic attitude to homeopathy. He, much more than anyone who had taught me so far, was totally focussed on matching a homeopathic remedy to a whole human being. I studied intensively with him both in Athens and in London and learned a great deal. I liked the way he spoke with patients, making them feel that there was nothing more important in the world than being fully understood by him. The five or six times that I attended seminars on the lovely Greek island of Alonissos on which he lives, will remain forever etched in my mind as inspiring happy times. I made many friends there too and will always be grateful to George for showing me just how holistic an approach homeopathy really is.
After practising a couple of years, I received a very big compliment. One of my teachers from my time at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, Dr Marianne Harling, invited me to help on a book she had been commissioned to edit. It was a collection of essays on material medica by the late Dr. Douglas Gibson. I spent several weekends at the home of this gentlewoman of English homeopathy in the sleepy but beautiful seaside town of Bournemouth. It was an honour and a pleasure to work with her and the result was a successful book published in 1987 called ‘Studies of Homeopathic Remedies’. I was credited as co-editor and felt happy at having done something worthwhile. Homeopaths everywhere speak well of this book, but of course the real credit goes to Dr. Gibson!