I’ve lost count of the number of times I sit across from a client in my office who proclaims, “My doctor does what you do. She’s really homeopathic and doesn’t like to prescribe medications,” or “I’m looking for a homeopathic doctor who will help me do a liver cleanse,” or “I love homeopathy – I use Echinacea whenever I get a cold!”
These comments always bring a smile to my face. I am thrilled to hear of a medical practitioner who judiciously prescribes pharmaceuticals, a client who desires to remove her toxic overload, or a patient who understands that Echinacea can support the immune system. However, as wonderful and effective as all these very holistic examples are… believe it or not… none of them actually describe classical homeopathy. While homeopathy is definitely part of a holistic healthcare paradigm, it is much more than the use of herbs, vitamins, supplements, diet, or lifestyle. So, then… what is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is derived from the Greek words homeos, meaning “similar to,” and pathos, meaning “disease” (suffering). It is a highly systematized method of medical therapeutics and clinical evaluation. The “remedies” utilized in homeopathic therapy are chosen according to the law of similars – “like cures like.” This is a fundamental homeopathic principle based on the clinical observation that a remedy’s ability to produce a pattern of symptoms in a healthy individual is the same remedy used to cure a similar pattern of symptoms in a sick patient. Hippocrates was the first physician to recognize this. He discovered that “herbs given in low doses tended to cure the same symptoms they produced when given in toxic doses.” Homeopathic remedies are derived from plant, mineral, and animal sources, and prepared through a process of dilution and succussion (shaking) in accordance with United States Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Congress.
Classical homeopathy was developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), who strongly objected to the medical practices of his day, in which too many patients died from the chemical toxicity of the commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals (sound familiar to current times?). In the homeopathic model, disease is believed to arise from inherent or developed weaknesses in the patient’s defense mechanisms. These weaknesses create a susceptibility to environmental toxins, bacteria, psychological stressors, and other “morbific agents.” The greater an individual’s susceptibility, the more likely disease will take hold. Disease, understood as “dis-ease” by the homeopath, is a collection of symptoms produced by an individual that communicate this susceptibility, or energetic imbalance. A carefully chosen homeopathic remedy supports the individual on all levels – mental, emotional, and physical – to lower susceptibility to disease and achieve energetic balance. When treated homeopathically, the symptoms disappear because the underlying energetic imbalance has been restored. This differs from the model of conventional medicine, known as “allopathy”, which is derived from the Greek allo, meaning “against” and pathos, meaning “suffering.” In the conventional medicine model, a pattern of symptoms is assigned a Latin name and treated with a pharmaceutical protocol that removes the symptoms, but does little to treat the underlying imbalance. Keep in mind that the allopathic model is not reserved for pharmaceuticals. Whenever an herbal tincture or vitamin supplement is used to counteract a specific symptom, the concept of allopathy (against the suffering) is being utilized.
Homeopathy is “holistic” because it treats the “whole” person, but it is still different from herbs, vitamins, supplements, diet, or lifestyle… each of which can also be part of a holistic wellness plan. The key to understanding the differences among these holistic remedies is an awareness of the different methods of preparation of these remedies. Homeopathic remedies are prepared through a method of dilution and succussion, which results in the remedy containing less “matter” and more “energy.” Diluting a substance reduces the amount of matter; succussing (shaking) a solution increases kinetic energy that gets stored in the dilution. Therefore, homeopathic remedies, while derived from matter, more closely resemble the energy of the original substance. In contrast, herbal tinctures and supplements are prepared through a process of concentration – an increase in matter. In the case of herbal tinctures, certain parts of the plants are distilled into concentrated amounts; in the case of supplements, certain nutrients are removed from their source to be concentrated into therapeutic doses. Therefore, homeopathic remedies treat the energetic imbalances that precede the physical symptoms, whereas, herbal tinctures and vitamin supplements have greater effect on the physical plane.
The fact that homeopathy has been proven to work on both acute diseases (colds, bacterial infections) and chronic diseases (arthritis, heart disease, obesity, etc.) are additional reasons savvy consumers find themselves confused. Many of you reading this article have purchased homeopathic remedies from health food stores to treat “acute” diseases in your family – your child’s sore throat, an ear infection or influenza. These remedies holistically treat acute flare-ups using the principle of “like cures like” and there are many excellent home guides to support this type of successful homeopathic remedy use. This is a different type of prescribing than that which you would receive from a qualified classical homeopath. Classical homeopathy really shines when used to remove a constitutional imbalance that results in chronic illness or repetitive acute diseases. In this type of prescribing, a carefully chosen homeopathic remedy arises from a purposefully taken homeopathic interview conducted by a qualified homeopath. This type of homeopathic interview will typically last anywhere from 1 ½ to 3 hours.
An example of a qualified classical homeopath is a practitioner who has undergone four years of specialized training in homeopathic medicine and has been certified in classical homeopathy (CCH) by the Council for Homeopathic Certification. Additional information on classical homeopathy and certification credentials is available on this author’s website.