One of the most important contributions of homeopathy to the theory of health and disease is the concept of suppression of symptoms.
Both in conventional and in some alternative forms of medicine reduction of symptoms and alleviation of suffering are viewed as the towering goals of treatment.
The clinical philosophy shared by naturopathic and homeopathic medicine holds, in contrast, that a symptom is an expression of inner disharmony rather than a problematic thing in itself, and that the disappearance of a symptom may or may not be an indication of cure when health is considered holistically.
In homeopathy it is very important to distinguish between a curative and a suppressive effect because the goal of treatment is healing of the entire person at the deepest possible level. To achieve this the homeopath first needs to know the patient’s medical history in order to determine whether any past treatments have been suppressive; second, the homeopath needs to evaluate the response of the patient to homeopathic treatment, in order to determine whether or not the patient is progressing in the desired direction toward greater health.
Some common treatments that unnecessarily lead to suppression of symptoms include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications (especially corticosteroids)
- Surgeries (tonsillectomies, nasal polypectomies, removal of benign skin lesions, and more)
- Anti-fever medications
- High doses of certain supplements
- Homeopathic remedies used symptomatically (these include remedies prescribed with the help of machines, muscle testing, and complex formulations (mixtures) made by Heel, Dr. Reckeweg, and UNDA).
- Improper long-term administration of single homeopathic remedies.
At best the symptoms thus ‘cured’ recur at some point in the future following such treatments (indicating a healthy vital force), and at worst they are seemingly cured but at a cost to overall long-term health — as I and other homeopaths routinely observe in the clinic. In addition, the use of these treatments during homeopathic treatment frequently slows down or completely stalls progress.
Such treatments may of course be necessary in cases of immediate danger to life or great suffering (as a last resort in intractable chronic situations): their availability is a blessing and not at all to be derided. But given alternatives such as homeopathy, suppressive forms of treatment should be avoided to the greatest possible degree.
A case example of suppression of symptoms caused by medical treatment
Dora, a patient in her thirties, came in for homeopathic treatment complaining of spells of extreme tiredness and occasional breathing difficulties. Her health history was unremarkable except for a diagnosis of eczema (a common skin inflammation, also known as atopic dermatitis) four years prior, which had appeared on both her forearms.
To treat her eczema Dora had received Betamethasone ointment. Betamethasone is a topical corticosteroid medication that acts as an anti-inflammatory to diminish or altogether eliminate eczematous patches. She applied the ointment on a daily basis until the patch faded away over a three-week period. To her relief, she needed to continue applying the ointment only occasionally (once or twice a week) to keep the inflammation under control, and after several months quit the ointment and has remained free of her complaint.
According to conventional medicine this had been a successful outcome. In fact, because eczema is often a chronic problem that tends to recur unless actively treated, this outcome had been preferable to the more typical scenario where the ongoing use of medication would have been necessary.
Now, four years later, Dora had eczema-free skin, but her well-being was compromised by spells of low energy and disconcerting breathing difficulties. Medically speaking, she used to have eczema and now had new symptoms requiring new diagnoses and treatments, and no relation between the two would normally be considered.
Holistically speaking, however, it was important to consider the potential connection between her present complaints and her past health and treatment history. Most holistic practitioners would aim in this situation to find the root cause behind both of Dora’s present complaints, aiming to improve her general condition using an integrated approach rather than prescribing two separate treatments (one for each of her complaints).
The homeopathic approach to Dora’s problem takes the holistic line of thinking one step further, arguing that by default (unless proven otherwise) a connection must exist between Dora’s present condition and her past ailments and the treatments that she received.
Suppression of symptoms, its consequences, and its treatment
The homeopathic principle of suppression of symptoms says that symptoms that are denied full expression at superficial level (commonly the skin or mucuous membranes in the respiratory or digestive tract) may later manifest at some deeper level (such as a vital organ). According to this principle, the suppression of Dora’s skin symptoms is a likely cause of her present symptoms, which manifest in her nervous and hormonal systems as well as in her lungs.
Homeopathic treatment was begun, and over the first several months Dora’s tiredness lessened and her breathing difficulties became infrequent. More significantly, however, on the seventh month of treatment her eczema (which had been gone for nearly five years by that point) reappeared on her forearms! This phenomenon, known as return of old symptoms, is recognized by homeopaths as a reliable sign of deep healing. The reappearance of Dora’s skin problem, concurrent with a improvement in her overall well-being, also corroborated the claim that the corticosteroid ointment had suppressed (rather than truly healed) her eczema.
To complete her treatment it was important for Dora to avoid returning to the use of Betamethasone ointment, lest this cause a stalling of her progress and a recurrence of the symptoms due to which she had come for homeopathic treatment in the first place. Armed with the knowledge that her skin problem would resolve if she persevered with homeopathic treatment, and that treating it with ointment would not benefit her overall health and could reverse her health gains, Dora bore the local skin discomfort (using the ointment only very rarely on especially uncomfortable patches) for several months before her skin finally healed.
Nowadays Dora is free of all medical complaints and reports feeling younger than she did several years ago, with greater reserves of energy and an overall better mood than she used to have through most of her life.
Homeopathy and the universal laws of healing
There are incontrovertible laws of healing that need to be understood and respected by any system of medicine in order for it to be capable of promoting true healing. Modern medicine unfortunately has a poor understanding of these laws—despite its brilliant and undeniable technical achievement—and its treatments often subvert them by suppressing symptoms even when the situation is not life-threatening and suffering is not unbearable.
Dora’s case example is not unique but is very typical of patients with chronic illness: conventional medical treatments that are considered successful — here an often-chronic skin condition was defeated with short-term medication use — cause more extensive illness and suffering down the road. This holds true not only with the treatment of eczema, but of many other conditions including asthma, allergies, recurrent respiratory infections, arthritis, thyroid and other hormonal problems, depression, ADHD, and more.
Homeopathic treatment requires patience and perseverance
Because homeopathy acts on the deepest level of the organism, it doesn’t always alleviate suffering as quickly as desired. It may take patience and perseverance to experience relief from bothersome symptoms. In addition, in chronic situations where the patient is already on conventional medications at the beginning of treatment, medications may have to be used concurrently for a long while before they can be discontinued. Both homeopath and patient must therefore be patient and not expect overnight relief of chronic conditions.
The rewards of diligently pursued homeopathic treatment are eventual freedom from medications, the permanent restoration of true health, and the opportunity of growing beyond lifelong physical, psychological, or spiritual limitations so that, in Hahnemann’s words, “our indwelling, rational spirit can avail itself of this living, healthy instrument for the higher purposes of our existence.”
Homeopathic treatment is thus not for the faint-hearted but is intended for those willing to sacrifice short-term comfort for the rewards of long-term health and fulfilment.
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