The beginning of a new year is a time when many of us reflect on our lives and our hopes and concerns. Knowing that the short winter days are beginning to lengthen again and seeing our world enlivened with bulbs coming up and catkins on the trees can stimulate ideas of growth and renewal. This may lead people to decide on important life changes, perhaps increasing exercise or adopting a healthier diet or attempting to make more fundamental changes in relationships or work or lifestyle. For those who are aware that their lives are constrained or otherwise affected by health problems or by difficulties in how they relate to the world and to those around them something more than self-help may be needed. The difficulty may then be how to find the right kind of help. For those who have not found the help they need through conventional medicine the services available through the Natural Practice may have much to offer.
Over a long career in general practice I was struck by the many different ways in which people with health problems find the kind of help that is useful for them. Very often this help turns out to have little to do with conventional medicine and the most useful thing that I could do as a GP was to help patients make sense of their symptoms and experiences. While there are problems and conditions for which modern medicine can offer dramatic and curative solutions this is not the case for many of the disorders that can blight our lives. Even when conventional medicine has apparently effective treatments these work well for some people but not for others, and this can cause those who have not been helped by conventional treatment to feel that there is no way for them to feel better. Fortunately there are many other approaches to addressing health problems. The various forms of alternative or complementary therapies probably have most to offer when conventional medicine has proved ineffective, so most people seeking help through settings such as The Natural Practice will already have tried conventional medicine or will have reasons why they do not want to follow a conventional approach.
One of the most characteristic features of most alternative therapies is that they are based on treating each patient as an individual and trying to discern the treatment that is most appropriate for their particular circumstances and symptoms. This is true for example, in homeopathy, where the homeopath’s task is to listen closely to the individual’s experiences in order to find a remedy that matches the patient’s condition. We often hear of homeopathy being criticised for not being evidence based and this has been used as an argument for withdrawing NHS funding for homeopathy. In fact there are many high quality studies that support the effectiveness of homeopathy and a homeopath’s choice of remedy is based on very carefully collected accounts of the effects of particular remedies. However, because treatment is so tailored to the individual’s symptoms and experience, homeopathic treatment does not lend itself well to analysis through Randomised Control Trials ( RCTs) which are often said to be the gold-standard of conventional medicine trials. Those fervently arguing that only those treatments shown to be effective in RCTs should be permitted seldom admit that even treatments that seem to do well in RCTs very rarely work for everyone. This means that even for conventional treatments with a supposedly strong evidence base, many patients may need to take treatment for a single patient to benefit. Alternative therapy practitioners know that they are trying to find the best treatment for their individual patient rather than using a blanket treatment method that ignores patient’s unique experiences.
Dr Tim Foster, Medical Homeopath at the Natural Practice.