The practice of classical homeopathy is based on the art of careful observation, patient listening, and exact questioning, combined with the science of case analysis, to produce a unique clinical method.
The first consultation in homeopathy, also known as the initial homeopathic intake, lasts about two hours for chronic complaints and as long as needed in the case of acute complaints. It is the beginning of an often fascinating journey of healing and self-discovery. A well-performed initial assessment provides the homeopath a solid foundation to guide the patient through this journey.
The interview process
The homeopath begins by listening to the details of the patient’s ailments as well as anything else that the patient feels is relevant to the case. In addition to eliciting objective symptoms relating to these complaints, the homeopath, through the use of many open-ended questions, encourages the patient to describe his or her exact experience of the illness or discomfort in progressively greater clarity, depth, and detail.
The aim of this interview process is for the homeopath to perceive the inner state of the patient, a single state that best points to the correct single prescription. This inner state is expressed through mind and body but is deeper than both. Although in everyday life many of us remain unaware of it, it is constantly expressed in the way we speak and interact with others, in what we choose to do in our spare time, in how we dress, and (often most clearly) in the content of our dreams.
How does the homeopathic assessment differ from a conventional one?
Unlike a conventional medical intake, which follows a preset formula whose goal is to choose from a relatively limited set of diagnoses, a homeopathic intake is open-ended. Because the homeopathic diagnosis is based on a wide variety of factors (including how the person reacts to the interview process itself), the homeopath gives maximum room for the patient to describe the ailment exactly as he or she experiences it.
This seemingly peripheral information is often more important than the objective information that medical doctors typically rely on, and it forms the basis of the homeopathic diagnosis. There are literally many hundreds of homeopathic remedies, which means that correct diagnosis requires great precision in understanding the patient’s state.
This elaborate interview process, when competently guided, inevitably leads to a holistic view of the patient’s state, and to a perspective that ties together seemingly disparate phenomena into a unified story and portrait of the illness at hand.
In The Initial Homeopathic Intake I outlined what takes place the first time a patient meets a homeopath. The aim of the entire initial-interview process is to distill the portrait of disease, which can be physical, psychological, or spiritual in nature. But it now remains to translate this information, often referred to as the “totality of symptoms,” into a working diagnosis.
This totality is a carefully selected subset of the collected symptoms, one which emphasizes certain symptoms while de-emphasizing others. The least-important symptoms for determining the homeopathic diagnosis are general symptoms that lack qualities that differentiate them from person to person. Such symptoms are considered common, and they are rarely useful in pointing toward the correct diagnosis. Uncommon symptoms, on the other hand, are homeopathically the most important. They can be described as strange, rare, or peculiar:
- Strange symptoms are ones that do not make sense from a logical point of view, for example a “pounding headache made better by hitting the head against a hard surface.”
- Rare symptoms are phenomena observed only in unusual cases in the population at that time and place, for example a case of tuberculosis in contemporary North America.
- Peculiar symptoms are very detailed symptoms whose presentation is unique, for example a “tickling sensation inside the left knee felt only when drinking water.”
Whether common or not, symptoms belong to one of two categories — pathological or characteristic:
- Pathological symptoms are those that are bothersome to the patient or problematic from a medical point-of-view. These include physical pathology, pain, unpleasant sensations, and thoughts or feelings which interfere with normal functioning.
- Characteristic symptoms that are phenomena that are non-pathological but nevertheless individualize the patient by distinguishing him or her from everyone else with the same pathology. These include details of the patient’s personality, reactions to external influences of food, weather, and the like, and significant past events in the patient’s personal and family history, such as accidents, emotional trauma, and serious disease. To these are added the homeopath’s observations of physical appearance and behavior.
The categorization of symptoms just described is in reality a highly refined art that can only be roughly sketched in words, an art which combines clinical experience, intuition, and a deep knowledge of human psychology. When correctly practiced, this method forms the first step of case analysis in classical homeopathy.
This and subsequent steps (which will be outlined in future posts) together aim for the ideal of individualization of treatment: each and every homeopathic patient is given a blank slate on which to draw his illness, and each will ultimately receive a different homeopathic treatment from the next patient complaining of the same ailment.
The homeopathic prescription, similarly to a conventional medical prescription, consists of the homeopathic remedy to be prescribed based on the homeopathic case analysis just performed, and the dosage, which in turn consists of potency and frequency of intake.
What is ‘potency’?
Potency basically refers to the strength and depth of effect of a homeopathic remedy. Potency is expressed in terms of the number of times the remedy has undergone the process of dilution and succussion (as described in The How and What of Homeopathic Remedies), and the factor of each dilution (1:10, 1:100, or 1:50,000).
Higher potencies are stronger-acting than lower ones, even though they are apparently more diluted (remember that the effect of the homeopathic remedy is not chemical, so the concentration of the original substance is unimportant to the potency). This counterintuitive fact is proven as valid in everyday clinical practice.
Frequency of intake
In the case of acute illnesses, homeopathic remedies are in a frequency proportional to the severity of the condition. For example, a stroke victim will receive a remedy once every minute or two to begin, then once every few minutes, and several times daily in the few days which follow. On the other hand, treating the common cold might require one to three doses per day.
In the case of chronic illnesses, where remedies are used in order to effect a gradual, deep change in the organism over many weeks and months, there are generally two styles of prescription. The first is the “single-dose, wait and watch” approach, whereby a single dose, usually of high potency, is given. Following this the patient’s state is observed for a while without further intake of the remedy.
How is it possible to give a remedy once and then wait for weeks or months with no further action? The answer to this lies in the fact that the homeopathic remedy does not cure directly. The effect of the homeopathic remedy is not like that of a medication, which attempt to cure directly but frequently cause symptomatic relief or suppression of symptoms. The action of the remedy is indirect, whereby it stimulates the organism’s self-healing capabilities.
The action of the homeopathic remedy is thus like that of a catalyst. Catalysts are used in chemistry to stimulate reactions to progress at a much faster rate than otherwise. Many chemical reactions that take place within seconds with the help of a catalyst would take many thousands of years to occur naturally. Similarly, the homeopathic remedy accelerates the body’s self-healing capacities . This is why a single dose of a remedy could, under the right circumstances, produce a long-lasting reaction from the organism. This reaction often persists for several weeks to several months before before further dosing is required.
The second approach involves regular (usually daily) dosing using a relatively low potency. This is done in some cases where a high potency might produce too strong an effect, or as a routine way of prescribing which avoids some potential pitfalls of the single-dose approach. For example, stressful circumstances and some other antidoting factors can blunt or even reverse the effects of a single dose, resulting in treatment delays if this is not addressed promptly by redosing once more, a step which usually requires a careful assessment by the homeopath. Another difficulty with the single-dose approach is determining exactly when the effect of the present dose has been exhausted sufficiently to warrant another dose.
On the other hand, the daily approach is frequently more agreeable to patients, many of whom feel uncomfortable with the idea of taking their “medication” only once every few weeks. The approach is also easier to customize to the patient’s particular condition, allowing for increased control of the pace of healing by the homeopath.
For much of the history of homeopathy the single-dose approach was dominant in the treatment of chronic disease. But because of the expectations of modern patients, and complicating factors that largely relate to modern living, it is becoming increasingly common to prescribe homeopathic remedies on a simple daily schedule, reserving the single-dose approach for small children (who respond very effectively to remedies) and rural people who live a healthier life under fewer environmental stresses.
Dispensing the remedy
The homeopathic remedy can be dispensed either in liquid form or in tablet form. The liquid form is based on a water-and-alcohol mixture, whereas the tablet form is made of sucrose or lactose suffused with the homeopathic remedy.
The choice of format is based sometimes on personal patient considerations, and sometimes on therapeutic considerations. For example, those averse even to the small amount of alcohol found in a daily homeopathic dose can opt for tablets; children can be give the sweet tablets to encourage intake, or conversely the liquid form to avoid sugar intake; those who are lactose intolerant can opt for sucrose tablets or the liquid form; and so on. In addition, there are subtle differences between the effect of these two formats of the homeopathic remedy that might also dictate the choice between the two.
Whatever the starting potency, frequency of intake, and physical format — as determined by the homeopath for each and every patient — the homeopathic remedy is taken over a period of time during which the dosage (potency and frequency of intake) is continually adjusted based on the progress of each individual patient. This homeopathic treatment is not only individualized with respect to the remedy given, but also to the management of the case.
After the first prescription the patient returns for regular appointments so that the homeopath may determine the response to it and decide what to do next. These visits are scheduled once every few weeks—more frequently at first and less so as treatment progresses. The whole process of interview, analysis, and prescription is repeated during every appointment, albeit on a smaller scale than during the first visit. Just as important, the patient and homeopath continually discuss the patient’s experience of illness in order to facilitate the long-term spiritual healing that most patients ultimately desire and which classical homeopathy is capable of facilitating.
Classical homeopathy has continually grown in complexity ever since its inception over 200 years ago. Most notably, the number of homeopathic remedies in use has grown from around 100 in homeopathy’s early days to several-thousand in use today.
Over the years there have been various attempts at formulating some of homeopathy’s hard-to-grasp principles in simple and logical form, in order to equip homeopaths with finer tools for handling the growing volume of information they were faced with.
In his 1991 book The Spirit of Homoeopathy — note the alternate spelling sometimes used, with the extra “o” before the “e” — Dr. Rajan Sankaran, a homeopathic medical doctor from Mumbai (Bombay), India, began developing an in-depth understanding of homeopathic theory with the goal of making homeopathic diagnosis and treatment more effective. Since the publication of this book Sankaran has established himself as an innovative theoretician and synthesizer of his and other prominent homeopaths’ ideas.
Overview of the main ideas in The Spirit of Homoeopathy
Sankaran begins by recounting the problems he faced during his homeopathic studies. He describes his studies as having consisted of memorizing lifeless information about the symptoms of hundreds of remedies, learning mechanical methods for determining which remedy to prescribe, and relying on obsolete theoretical foundations.
Although hardly everyone in the homeopathic community shares Sankaran’s critical view, it is this dissatisfaction with the status quo that inspired him to compile in book form the theoretical advances he and fellow homeopaths had made through the 1980s.
Emphasis on mental and general symptoms
Sankaran and his colleagues noted that prescriptions that they made based on mental or general symptoms, as opposed to local physical or pathological symptoms, were more likely to lead to cure. In fact, many prescriptions in which the pathology — even when it represented the patient’s main complaint — was disregarded homeopathically (i.e., not used to determine which homeopathic remedy to prescribe) were treated successfully when the mental and general state of the patient exactly matched the features of the homeopathic remedy.
For example, a person who is fastidious (orderly and finicky to a fault), anxious about his health or physical security, and very sensitive to cold weather is very likely to require the remedy Arsenicum album, regardless of whether he suffers from a skin problem, heart disease, or asthma.
The observation that general and mental symptoms were especially important was not a new discovery, but Sankaran put much emphasis on this fact and made it the basis of an entire theory of health and disease, as follows.
The central disturbance and its components
Given that disease is not characterized by local pathology (following the perspective of western medicine) but by the general state of the organism on the physical and psychological levels, one may speak of disease as a central disturbance of the organism. This central disturbance can in turn be described in terms of components, which are the most characteristics general and mental symptoms of the patient.
Disease state arises from a life-situation
Even when relying on the patient’s most characteristic general and mental symptoms, it remains unclear how and why the individual components are related to each other. After all, every person has one central disturbance at any one time, and accordingly requires one remedy to address the illness (following the previously described principles of classical homeopathy), so the components must be related to each other.
The key insight in The Spirit of Homoeopathy is that symptoms can be related by postulating a life-situation which the patient wrongly perceives himself to be in. For example, a person who is anxious with a highly elevated heart rate and a sense of impending death may be perceiving the world as though he were about to be killed in a car accident. Such a person will frequently require Aconitum napellus (Aconite for short), a remedy whose central feature is an acute fear of death.
The Aconite state could occur following an actual recent event, as in a patient who has just witnessed or survived a car accident. In this case the disease stems from the fact that the actual event is past yet the person still perceives the event as ongoing. In other words, while the symptoms were an appropriate response during the event, their undue persistence after the event (a state that might conventionally be diagnosed as “acute post-traumatic shock”) is inappropriate and therefore treatable homeopathically. The same logic applies to a more chronic state, in which the person is permanently stuck in a false perception of reality.
Disease as delusion
When a person has the experience of living in a life situation in a state which does not correspond to reality, his disease state may be described as a delusion about reality. The term ‘delusion’ as used in homeopathy does not refer to the psychiatric state encountered under LSD intoxication or in schizophrenia, but simply to the fact that a person’s perceived life-situation does not correspond with reality. Many fully functional people (i.e., most of us) may be said to be suffering from some delusion in the homeopathic sense.
Disease in the homeopathic sense is thus a much broader concept than in other systems of medicine: it is a fixed perception of reality that is inappropriate under the present situation. It is like an imbalanced posture that the organism adopts in response to a subjective sense of reality that objectively does not exist.
Disease is therefore not confined to medical conditions, but includes complaints that may have no associated medical diagnosis. These may include non-pathological, ‘functional’ complaints such as low energy or various aches and pains, as well as subtle psychological or spiritual complaints. All of these are as treatable with homeopathy as are full-blown diseases in the conventional sense.
The root causes of disease
If a delusion refers to a reality not existing in the present, then where in the past did that reality arise? In acute cases such as the Aconite example above, the delusion refers to an obvious recent event, whereas in many chronic cases it is unclear where the disease has originated. But this is not a concern: as I’ve written in This is Why Homeopaths Emphasize Clinical Results over Theory, homeopathy only needs to deal with the what rather than the why or how of disease in order to provide effective treatment.
Insofar as homeopaths delve into the root causes of diseases, they have discovered that these may range from physical or psychological shocks encountered during one’s lifetime, to stresses experienced by the mother during pregnancy, to features inherited from previous generations.
Still, even if the homeopath fails to get any insight into the origin of the disease state in a particular patient, he or she can address the disease by fully understanding its present manifestation as the peculiar set of sensitivities or predisposition that characterizes every patient. This contrasts sharply with conventional medicine, where ignorance of the cause of a disease usually means that the disease can at best be kept under control rather than cured.
What is health?
The definition of health according to The Spirit of Homoeopathy can now be extracted from its novel definition of disease: Health is the freedom to experience every moment of life just as it is rather than through the lens of some perceived reality. The healthy person responds to reality with full and undivided awareness, does not need reality to be different from the way it is (except in the positive sense of thinking up an even better reality and acting to realize it) in order to feel comfortable, and is ultimately free to pursue the higher purpose of life, whatever it may be for each individual.
Sankaran’s ideas are controversial
Sankaran’s writings, which have included many professional articles and several books since the publication of The Spirit of Homoeopathy in 1991, have influenced many homeopaths while inciting much controversy within the profession. This is because what began as a reformulation of well-established theoretical principles has more recently become a full-featured clinical system that differs significantly from the traditional approach of homeopathy.
Many homeopaths have praised his ideas as revolutionary and have come to adopt them in their practice. But several prominent homeopaths claim that his ideas have distorted and debased classical homeopathy and that they are causing damage to the profession; others see his early ideas simply as reformulations of other homeopaths’ thought and therefore not as original as they are claimed to be; and others still find the ideas theoretically appealing, but argue against the novel clinical approach that he has developed over the years.
My own opinion of Sankaran’ system is generally positive, but with reservations. I use his ideas frequently, but at the same time find that his system is a stepping-stone rather than a destination: it is helpful in some cases but it doesn’t consistently contribute to an improved rate of success in the clinic. Perhaps this is because diagnostic skill is ultimately intuitive rather than systematic, and so a systematic diagnostic approach is limited by its very nature. Still, Sankaran is indisputably an excellent communicator who conveys complex ideas in an easy-to-understand, lucid manner, and as such he has made a positive contribution to the profession.
The Spirit of Homoeopathy is available from Amazon or from Whole Health Now homeopathic bookstore. Although the book is written in simple and clear language, it presupposes some prior knowledge of homeopathy. A classic, in-depth introduction to homeopathy is available in The Science of Homeopathy by George Vithoulkas (Amazon, Whole Health Now).
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.
“How long will it take for me to get better?”
This is one of the most frequent questions asked by new or prospective homeopathic patients. It is a sensible question that originates in our deep desire to foretell our life course and to receive assurance about the future. How does homeopathy rise to the challenge of responding with a reliable forecast?
The challenge of homeopathic forecasting
Homeopathic forecasting is challenging for any homeopath, because homeopathic treatment addresses the total predisposition to illness — a complex entity composed of multiple known and unknown factors — rather than isolated symptoms. The challenge is especially great prior to the initial homeopathic intake, as it is only during this consultation that the predisposition is first discerned.
Homeopathic forecasting is demanding essentially because of the nature of the spiritual healing that is the goal of homeopathic treatment of chronic conditions. Such deep healing cannot be forced on the organism but must be allowed to take place at its own pace. It also demands the conscious and unconscious participation of the patient, since progress is affected by the degree of readiness to get better, and there are unpredictable stresses in the physical and social environments that can further hinder progress.
Factors that determine the projected length of treatment
There are several key characteristics of the patient which can yield an estimate of treatment length that is based on sound principles. Unlike weather forecasts which are often accurate in the short term but inaccurate in the long term, long-term homeopathic forecasts are quite reliable, as most chronic conditions (whether or not they are considered medically curable) do eventually yield to homeopathic treatment on a timeline that can roughly be estimated.
The following, then, are the essential factors (presented in question form) on which reliable forecasts of treatment length are made:
- What is your level of vitality?
- What is your nature and social background?
- What is the type and severity of your physical pathology?
- How long ago did the first signs of your concern emerge?
- Is your condition hereditary?
- What interfering factors are present in your life?
- What level of healing are you seeking?
The younger you are, the less psychologically set in your ways and the more physically responsive you will be, on average. But more important than your chronological age is your biological age. Are you a vivacious senior who leads an active life that is the envy of people half your age? If so, you will tend to be highly responsive to homeopathic treatment. Is your child slow and sluggish, exhibiting health problems that have been present since birth? Homeopathic treatment can still be transformative, but improvement will likely take a while.
Vital people display dynamic symptoms that vary depending on the stresses faced from moment to moment. Children tend to be dynamic: their mood can shift radically from moment to moment, and their physical symptoms will tend to appear and disappear quickly. Old people tend to have fixed pathologies, ones that are embedded in the physical organism and are hard to shift.
High vitality equals a strong, flexible and resilient life force, one that bends under stress yet rebounds quickly. Low vitality is reflected in an unresponsive, oversensitive life force that will tend to break rather than bend under stress. Getting a sense of the condition of the patient’s life force is the first and most important step in homeopathic forecasting.
Are you by nature attentive to the signals of your body, expressive with your emotions, adaptive, creative, and responsive to your environment? Or are you over-intellectual, emotionally repressed, and set in your ways?
Life is motion, and those patients who display much motion in their life are likely to respond quite quickly to an accurate prescription, whereas others have to wait patiently as their body and soul reorganize.
It is worthy of note that patients living in simple conditions, even in poverty, often respond more quickly to homeopathic treatment than patients in affluent societies. This is because the pathologies seen in less-developed societies tend to be more acute, life-or-death conditions than chronic ones, and because people living in such societies tend to be less emotionally and medically repressed than the average modern individual.
This fact, mind you, is not an advertisement against modernity! Homeopathy nowadays treats people who might have been long dead in another time and place. It is simply that the treatment of people in modern societies tends to be more complex and drawn out than that of non-westernized people.
There is no simple correlation between type of pathology and length of treatment, because homeopathy does not treat physical pathology directly. A seemingly minor skin condition might prove stubborn and take several years to clear up in one case, whereas in another case a large cancerous tumor might shrink significantly over several weeks.
Still, extensive tissue damage or damage to slow-to-regenerate tissue (e.g., nerves and cartilage) will correlate with a longer rehabilitation period — sometimes several years under dedicated treatment in cases where serious physical degeneration has occurred.
Because homeopathy is in principle capable of reversing pathology considered medically irreversible, accepting such long timelines in cases of severe pathology can inject hope into those of us who are hopeless about recovery:
- Homeopathy has been known to reverse the nerve pathology of multiple sclerosis, but it took several years of dedicated treatment every time.
- Homeopathy has led to substantial recovery of joint cartilage in severe rheumatoid arthritis, but each time required many months to several years of the patient’s endurance.
- Homeopathy regularly leads to recovery from inflammatory bowel conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, but tissue healing and resolution of inflammation progresses gradually and unevenly, challenging the patient’s resolve to get better whenever an exacerbation takes place.
A rule-of-thumb often used by homeopaths is that it takes a month of treatment for every year the illness has been present. This holds roughly true in simple cases of chronic illness resulting from clear stress factors. In cases of chronic illness due to a longstanding predisposition the length of treatment will frequently be longer.
For example, a patient who became depressed following the death of a parent five years ago would be expected to require five months of treatment before returning to the same psychological state as before the traumatic event. On the other hand, a patient who developed depression five years ago for no apparent reason might require many months or even several years to eliminate the predisposition (often present since childhood, or even inherited) which led to his depression.
The topic of heredity is specifically addressed in the next question.
Homeopathy takes heredity one step beyond the notion of genetic inheritance familiar from conventional medicine.
Homeopaths recognize in addition to genetic inheritance of pathological tendencies a class of heredity termed miasmatic influence (from the Greek miasma, taint). Miasmatic influence refers to the negative energetic imprint transferred from the parents to the child alongside other qualities, infusing the child with undesirable physical or behavioral tendencies:
- Stresses and traumas during pregnancy frequently affect the child through the mother, causing ailments in the newborn child which are inexplicable except when considered in their light.
- Homeopathy, together with many world cultures, further recognize the influence of the parents’ psychic state during the period preceding the child’s conception.
- People frequently bear an uncanny resemblance to older or deceased family members, even in cases when the two have never met.
When a patient presents with complaints with a strong miasmatic basis, these can still be addressed with homeopathy, but the timeline grows longer and becomes harder to predict.
Do you live with a loving spouse, a supportive family, in a paradise where the air sparkles and the weather is fair year-round? Or does homeopathic treatment catch you in the midst of a financial crisis, frequent quarrels with your kids, and a daily routine which includes a three-hour commute through a busy metropolitan area?
Do you eat a home-grown diet replete with fresh vegetables, drink water from your private mountain-spring, wake up at 5am for your daily 10K run in the woods, and never visit the doctor? Or is your breakfast a bagel with cream-and-coffee on the run (plus your medications), your lunch Chinese take-out at your work desk (plus your medications), and your dinner a pizza and TV (plus your medications)?
Those who lead a quiet rural life tend to respond more quickly to treatment than their urban counterparts. More generally, the more physically and spiritually pure is your present life, the more swiftly you will respond to any treatment that you pursue.
Homeopathy possesses an unlimited curative potential, but only when treatment is pursued for long enough so as to remove the predisposition to illness in its entirety. This typically requires several years. Yet great clinical progress and relief from suffering is often achieved in a fraction of this period.
How far a patient advances beyond the mere eradication of discomfort is a function of both the patient’s and the homeopath’s level of spiritual awareness. Most homeopaths expect and strive toward the full curative effects obtainable through homeopathy, but this journey is possible only with cooperation from the patient:
- Some patients are interested in symptom relief and not in achieving perfect health or healing their spirit. Such patients are concerned about their bothersome symptoms, and as soon as these are remedied (within a few days, weeks, or months) they quit treatment, even if their medical condition remains unresolved and their spirit unchanged.
- Other patients, for instance those with chronic inflammatory conditions requiring medications, are not happy with a noticeable but partial reduction in their suffering, and stick around for the many months typically required for achieving freedom from discomfort, independence from medications, and a clean medical bill.
- Those most ambitious patients who long to release life-long physical and psychological limitations benefit immensely from continuing treatment well beyond the time of resolution of medically identifiable complaints — typically for several years.
The rewards obtainable by this last type of patient include the following: increased resistance to infectious disease and resilience to environmental stressors; previously hidden or dormant abilities become available for use; dreams and aspirations that never made it past the planning stage begin to be actualized; and lifelong psychological issues due to heredity or early-childhood trauma dissolve away.
Such revolutionary changes do not happen merely as a result of homeopathic treatment: they involve long-term commitment to life-changing behaviors. But the beauty of homeopathy is that it acts to align the individual along just this path of right action.
Homeopathy is highly effective in the treatment of allergies and fully capable of stimulating the organism to heal to the point of complete relief from all allergy symptoms.
Many of us have suffered from allergies at one time in our life, and usually the best treatment offered was symptomatic relief through avoidance of the allergen or through medication. Homeopathy, on the other hand, addresses the cause of the sensitivity to allergens at the deepest possible level; avoiding the allergen (the substance responsible for the allergic response) or resorting to suppression of symptoms through ongoing symptomatic treatment becomes unnecessary once this sensitivity has been eliminated.
In this article I begin with (1) a short overview of allergies, followed by (2) discussion of the conventional approach, (3) the homeopathic diagnostic approach and (4) the rationale behind the homeopathic approach to the treatment of allergies.
1. The many types of allergy
There are many common substances to which people may develop an allergic response, including:
- Foods such as wheat (gluten), milk and dairy, seafood (shellfish), alcohol, soy, eggs, peanuts, and certain vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants).
- Common environmental factors such as dust, pollen, mold, animal fur (from dogs, cats, or other pets), dust mites, and sunlight.
- Various natural or synthetic substances such as latex, nickel, pesticides, medications (penicillin, sulfa drugs, and many more), venom from relatively harmless animal stings (bees, wasps).
Symptoms of allergy manifest at the interface between the external world and internal environment: on the skin and in mucus membranes of the respiratory tract, the digestive tract, and the eyes. The inflammation that results causes the various allergy symptoms that many of us are familiar with from personal experience or through someone we know.
It should be noted that some of the above substances may cause trouble to many otherwise healthy people. If this is the case and the substance is synthetic or strongly modified from its natural form (medications, commerical wheat, genetically modified soy, etc.) then it may indeed be the substance rather than personal sensitivity that should be viewed as the true cause, and avoidance may well be the most appropriate solution in such cases.
Indeed, there are many substances encountered in modern life to which we are not physiologically adapted. These are a frequent cause of intolerance symptoms such as mental fogginess, tiredness, poor digestion, skin rashes, and diarrhea. Intolerance should be distinguished from allergy by its lesser specificity and intensity of symptoms, and the term may also refer to certain hereditary conditions in which the body is unable to handle specific food components or environmental conditions for reasons that have nothing to do with the immune system. From the therapeutic point of view intolerance (except of the hereditary type) is approached similarly to allergy, although frequently with more emphasis on avoidance.
In addition, some forms of asthma are allergic in nature, seasonal allergies are frequently referred to as hay fever, and a skin allergy usually manifests itself as hives.
Whatever the exact terminology applied, the goal of homeopathic allergy treatment is the strengthening of the organism at its spiritual core, leading to increased resilience of the organism. A resilient person is able to withstand a wide variety of environments by responding appropriately to each situation without suffering chronic ill effects.
2. The conventional approach to allergy
The conventional approach to allergy incorporates the strategy of environmental control, whereby the patient avoids exposure to the allergen as much as possible. In contrast, from the homeopathic perspective the identity of the allergen is not nearly as important as each individual’s specific pattern of response to it, both at the physical and at the psychological level.
The former approach is effective in principle but has two limitations. First, avoiding the allergen completely may be difficult in highly sensitive individuals for whom even trace amounts of allergen produce a full-blown, or even life-threatening, allergic response.
Second, the avoidance approach doesn’t address the true cause of the allergy, which is not the allergen but the person’s sensitivity to it. Avoidance can eliminate symptoms but it doesn’t amount to true healing, at least not by the stringent homeopathic standards: health is freedom in facing external challenges with few limitations, whereas avoidance restricts the individual’s freedom.
There are two classes of medication generally in use for the symptomatic control of allergies: antihistamines and corticosteroids. Of these, corticosteroids are the more disruptive because they paralyze the immune system at its root, whereas antihistamines interrupt the allergic response without fundamentally altering immune function.
A second-line approach to more severe allergies is immunotherapy (‘allergy shots’), which involves regular injections of small amounts of the relevant allergen(s) over a long period (several months to several years); this leads to a gradual desensitization of the body to them. This approach happens to be based on a simplified version of the homeopathic principle called isopathy, and because of this it does not disrupt homeopathic treatment (beyond making it difficult to determine which of the two treatments should be credited with the improvement). This approach is suitable for many, but falls short of the more global therapeutic improvement attainable through the homeopathic approach.
3. The homeopathic diagnostic approach
The homeopathic treatment of allergies begins with the physical symptoms but doesn’t end there. Important clues to the homeopathic pattern and prescription can be found in:
- life circumstances around the time of onset of the allergy symptoms;
- situations which cause an exacerbation of the allergy symptoms;
- situations which lead to a relief from allergy symptoms;
- feelings aroused by the allergy symptoms, or the person’s unique experience of the condition;
- how the allergy symptoms disrupt normal living, or what the person is thereby prevented from doing.
Again, it is important to understand that the specific allergy symptoms are not in themselves a disease but merely represent the underlying spiritual imbalance that is the root of all disease. Whether a person will develop allergies, skin problems, joint problems, or organ problems is largely dependent on hereditary factors as well as on the degree of suppression of symptoms from past medical treatment.
In the case of severe allergies and asthma it is important never to reduce or discontinue the use of medications until the allergic tendency has clearly and permanently been eliminated, and even then always in consultation with the treating physician. Likewise it is important to maintain access to emergency facilities in case of a dangerous exacerbation throughout treatment, and to continue carrying antihistamines, inhalers, an EpiPen adrenaline injector, etc. whenever away from home for use in case of a severe reaction.
4. The rationale behind the homeopathic approach to allergies
What is the advantage of comprehensive allergy treatment with homeopathy over other natural approaches?
On the one hand clean diets such as the raw food diet I discussed recently have many beneficial effects. For example, many people do better without wheat: they typically feel more clear-headed than otherwise, among other subtle benefits. So even people who do not complain of any symptoms indicative of allergy or intolerance might do well to avoid certain foods, and likewise to breath fresher air, drink cleaner water, and so on.
But eliminating the allergen should only be seen as the first step of a comprehensive treatment strategy that addresses also the person’s allergic sensitivity. This can be achieved through treatment which strengthens the overall functioning of the organism and repairs the immune system.
If dietary measures are used, they should go beyond avoidance of specific foods, aiming to heal the gut and address the excessive intestinal permeability (also known as leaky gut syndrome) that frequently underlies food-based allergies.
True healing, however, is largely independent of dietary considerations: the healthy person should not only feel extra-healthy on a perfect diet, but also remain symptom-free when consuming a somewhat imperfect diet. To begin, it helps that healthy individuals are naturally attracted to healthy foods. But living in our society involves the occasional birthday or cocktail party or movie outing, and we should not be punished for sporadic indulgence. Yet many people who base their health maintenance on dietary measures alone remain sensitive to deviations from a strict diet, and some even become more rather than less sensitive — and therefore more restricted — over time.
When a person can feel well only on a customized, restrictive diet this indicates an imbalance at a deeper level. This imbalance is addressable partly through lifestyle measures such as exercise and meditation; but, again, one’s health shouldn’t be highly dependent on a strict regimen of daily exercise and meditation.
The way I see it, the ultimate goal in the healing of allergic symptoms involves eliminating sensitivity while increasing freedom. This is achievable through constitutional treatment primarily through comprehensive systems such as Chinese medicine and homeopathy.
Constitutional treatment is the long-term strengthening of the spiritual core of the organism. (See my article on length of homeopathic treatment for information on how long this might take.) Clinically it is known that such treatment tends to increase the natural resilience of the organism to environmental stressors.
We are all familiar with the image of a spiritually strong person as a Zen master who remains unperturbed when faced with interpersonal conflict or life circumstances that would overwhelm a normal being. With respect to allergies, the spiritually healthy person will prefer a allergen-free environment, but will remain healthy even when exposed to unhealthy environmental influences.
Homeopathic treatment begins with a thorough investigation into all aspects of the patient’s life. During the initial interview the homeopath routinely enquires about dreams (especially childhood dreams, memorable past dreams, recurrent dreams, and nightmares), because dreams have proven to be helpful clinical indicators in many patients’ cases.
But dreams must be amongst the most contentious, mysterious, and thoroughly unobjective of phenomena! Why, then, are they nevertheless considered valuable in homeopathic diagnosis and treatment?
In this article I will describe the ways in which dreams may be incorporated into the homeopathic diagnosis. Their value lies in their ability to reveal the true state of the patient and to point the way to a confident selection of homeopathic remedy. In a followup article I will further explain how changes in sleep and dreaming patterns are sensitive indicators of the progress of healing once treatment has begun.
Dreams: Precious psychic gems or rubble of the mind?
One of the enduring mysteries of life is the nature of dreams. Scientists have a relatively poor understanding of the unique physiological states that occur during sleep and dreaming, let alone of the reasons for the bewildering array of dream content that we experience. In any event science does not yet possess a convincing theory that explains why we must, in the first place, sleep and experience dreaming states to function normally and stay alive (prolonged sleep deprivation of experimental animals leads to dire consequences).
The actual content of dreams is normally considered irrelevant or not amenable to the scientific mode of investigation. For example, one theory holds that dreams are simply the mind’s attempt at making sense of the electrical noise produced by brain metabolism: whereas in the waking state these signals find an outlet in miniature muscular contractions throughout the body, during the paralysis of sleep these signals are transformed into thoughts which bring about the dreaming experience.
But science apart and life apart: people of all cultures routinely interpret their dreams, finding patterns of meaning even when reasonably there are none to be found. Psychologists and occult practitioners of all kind investigate the dream world, hoping to offer insight and assistance to their clients through correct interpretation of their dreams.
Many spiritual traditions concur in their view that during sleep our soul leaves the body and locates itself in some other realm in which actions are not bound by physical laws. In the modern world dreams are regarded more conservatively, but not necessarily more accurately, as windows into the individual’s subconscious — a realm beyond the purview of science, governed (if at all) by the mysterious laws of spirit.
How do homeopaths make use of dreams?
The homeopathic approach to dreams is straightforward: on the one hand homeopaths fully accept the legitimacy of dream material (along with all of the subjective phenomena reported by patients), while on the other hand they strive to avoid dream interpretation.
Being that it is prone to error and speculation, dream interpretation is not considered a reliable foundation for homeopathic diagnosis, although it has its place within the healing dialogue between patient and homeopath. Instead, homeopaths employ dreams in these two ways: (i) as symptoms just like any other homeopathic symptom, and (ii) as pointers to the true state of the patient.
(i) Dreams are ordinary homeopathic symptoms
Dreams can be incorporated into the diagnosis simply as ordinary homeopathic symptoms alongside, because among the physical and psychological symptoms listed under the materia medica (clinical description) of each remedy are listed dream rubrics such as:
- Dreams - children
- Dreams - dogs
- Dreams - dancing
- Dreams - war
as well as dream qualities such as:
- Dreams - obscene
- Dreams - pleasant
- Dreams - vivid
Associated with each such category are remedies listed in the homeopathic repertory (index of symptoms). In a patient with a clear history of dreams the homeopath thus can narrow down the field of possibilities and concentrate his mind on a smaller set of potential remedies.
The use of dreams as reported phenomena just like any other mental and subjective symptoms is universally accepted among classical homeopaths.
(ii) Dreams point to the true state of the patient
The second use of dreams involves drawing out mental attributes from the raw dream reports. This is done under two assumptions: first, that dreams are meaningfully related to the person’s state and, second, that they are at least as good a representation of this state as are the non-dream reports.
Because people are frequently unaware of aspects of their psyche, fears or delusions (perceptions in mentally healthy people that are not reflective of reality) are often revealed only through dreams. For example, a patient who has frightful encounters with snakes in her dreams might merit the designation and corresponding rubric “Fear of snakes,” while a patient who is regularly dreams of being involved in warfare might merit the rubric “Delusion - he is a soldier.”
Dream translation has to be done both skillfully and conservatively lest it devolve into speculation. Not surprisingly, homeopaths differ in their opinion about the legitimacy of using dreams in this indirect manner. Those, like myself, who consider it legitimate to venture into the dream world find in dreams a most-reliable gateway to the psyche: when correctly handled, dreams offer a precise view of the hidden dynamics that motivate the patient’s life, frequently leading to a correspondingly precise diagnosis and prescription.
The key to not abusing this approach lies in integrating the inferences from the patient’s dream world with the rest of the patient’s description by verifying that the dream element is corroborated elsewhere in the clinical report.
Further uses of dreams
Dreams can further be exploited as starting points for drawing out psychological material that the patient is aware of yet does not wish or is unable to divulge directly.
From their dream reports patients can be led rather craftily to reveal aspects of their persona that they are either reluctant to discuss or which they incorrectly consider irrelevant for the homeopathic interview. When used by the homeopath with the pure intention of helping the patient, this approach creates no harm and enables a precise diagnosis even in an uncooperative patient.
Finally, dreams can reveal the psychic makeup of children who are old enough to retell their dreams but not yet intellectually capable of answering more abstract enquiries into their mental state.
Dreams are valuable because they bypass compensations
In the final analysis, the key reason for the diagnostic importance of dreams is that much of the conscious reporting of the patient is based on his or her compensated state. Compensation involves the funneling of thoughts and behavioural impulses that are inappropriate to the situation toward more productive or socially acceptable outcomes.
Such restraint and rechanelling of behaviour is a cardinal ingredient of any civilized society, but it makes the homeopath’s task of correct diagnosis more difficult. For example, a person with violent impulses might take up Tai Chi, cultivating the peaceful, meditative aspect of the art and speaking at length about values such as inner calm and forgiveness. If asked directly about violent tendencies (i.e., if the homeopath were to suspect this from the patient’s ‘feel’ or appearance) such a patient would answer in denial. Yet a reported violent dream might reveal what lies hidden underneath the peacful outward manner.
In a followup article I explain how changes in sleep and dreaming patterns are sensitive indicators of the progress of healing under homeopathic treatment.
In a recent article I introduced the topic of the role of dreams in homeopathic diagnosis. In this article I explain how sleep and dreams serve as useful indicators of the progress of healing.
From Diagnosis to Treatment
The correct diagnosis marks only the beginning of the homeopathic healing journey. The process of treatment includes regular followup appointments (usually once every several weeks), during which the patient’s present state of health is carefully compared with the past state.
The action of a homeopathic remedy is very individual, and the initial phase of improvement is often experienced by patients as turbulent. Physical symptoms often get worse before they get better, there may be swings in mood and energy levels, and interpersonal relations may be strained as the patient begins to shift on a deep level.
This state of affairs is an unavoidable consequence of the nature of homeopathic healing which, unlike most other treatments, restores balance of the whole organism but may not provide symptomatic relief early on. Thus the best indicators of improvement are often not the symptoms comprising the patient’s suffering. Therefore in order to assess patients’ spiritual health, homeopaths rely heavily on general clinical indicators such as mood, energy, sleep quality, and pattern and content of dreams.
Even in cases of turmoil (known as a homeopathic aggravation) or apparent lack of progress, positive changes in these general indicators reliably herald eventual lasting improvement. On the other hand, a prolonged aggravation of specific symptoms without a concurrent positive shift in the general state may indicate a setback unrelated to the treatment, or in unusual cases a negative response to a wrongly prescribed remedy.
Sleep and dreams are sensitive early indicators of spiritual health
Improvement in the quality of sleep is among the most reliable indicators of a positive spiritual shift early on in the treatment process. Although few patients present with sleep problems as their main complaint, many people sleep poorly enough that they report an improvement in this sphere when prompted by the homeopath. Some will find that they fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly, whereas others will temporarily experience more restless or dream-disturbed sleep yet will have better mood and energy the following day.
With regard to dreaming, two patterns of improvement are seen. The first and, in my experience, more common one is where patients experience a surge in their dreaming, noting upon waking that they have dreamt more at night, remembering more of their dreams, or being awoken by a dream during the night. The increase in dreaming is the surfacing of unconscious material and its integration into the person’s conscious life experience. This in turn frequently promotes a feeling of well being that compensates for the disruption of sleep.
The second pattern is seen in patients who used to dream a lot and presently begin to experience more peaceful sleep. In these patients it seems that there is a good connection to the subconscious, but issues are rehashed and re-experienced without resolution. As these issues are resolved, the need to process them during sleep decreases, and dreaming is reduced accordingly. This situation must be contrasted with the situation where a patient experiences less dreaming yet also poorer sleep: in such cases the reduction in dreaming suggests a disconnection from the subconscious.
Shifts in sleep and dreaming while under homeopathic treatment occur incidentally to shifts in the main complaint: they are non-specific indicators of the state of spiritual health of the organism, regardless of the nature of the patient’s main complaint. It is normal for the chief complaint, when it is physical or mental rather than purely spiritual, to lag behind the spiritual state: the physical or mental complaint can shift only once the spiritual foundation for healing has been prepared. For this reason changes in sleep and dreaming are among the earliest and most sensitive clinical indicators, and as such are extremely helpful whenever changes in specific symptoms are vague, contradictory, or otherwise difficult to interpret.
Finally, at times the changing content of dreams itself is a useful indicator of the trajectory of progress. In such cases it may be useful to discuss this with the patient, in order to bring to greater awareness the significance of a specific dream. Overall, however, homeopathy is much less concerned with deep dream analysis than are many schools of psychotherapy.
Common causes of failure of homeopathic treatment
For homeopaths, it is important to communicate the nature of homeopathic medicine to their patients. Otherwise patients form unrealistic expectations about their own progress, based on the reasonable expectation that their symptoms should be relieved not only permanently but quickly. Unfortunately, some homeopaths are not be sufficiently cognizant that they are dealing with purely spiritual medicine, or may be swayed away from this conviction in their desire to relieve their patients’ suffering. But the above described approach produces by far the best long-term clinical results, and failure to look for the subtle shifts in spiritual health that precede more obvious shifts in physical or mental symptoms is a frequent cause of failure of homeopathic treatment even when the first hurdle — choosing the correct remedy — has been overcome. Most commonly this is seen as the habit of chasing symptoms by changing remedies in quick succession, instead of persisting with one carefully chosen remedy for the several months to several years that it takes to fully resolve a spiritual imbalance.
Homeopathic patients, on their part, will sometimes become disillusioned after relief is not quick to come, thereby missing out on the profound healing benefits which must follow the correct homeopathic prescription. For them it is important to understand the natural laws of healing as they become manifest through sleep, dreams, and otherwise. Otherwise the only resort for such patients, other than to keep suffering, is to suppress their symptoms through conventional medications or other forms of symptomatic treatment, without regard for the long-term consequences. Homeopathic treatment is very powerful, but is not well-suited for those looking for a quick fix, as homeopathic patients need to be willing to forego immediate relief in favor of a long-term investment in health and well-being.