Understanding the benefits of homeopathy

3 years ago by Dr David Owen

There comes in everyone's career a time when you have to take stock.  For sometime, I have been wondering whether I am an earlier adopter, championing a new paradigm of healing, or, am I a late changer, protecting traditions and values of yesteryear and standing up for timeless truths.  Paradoxically my career has been a bit of both; shepherding in new approaches to old traditions, applying them to patients with conditions not described historically and working to create a treatment plan to help each individual harness their self-healing potential and maximising well-being using an approach that mixes different natural medicines and therapies, lifestyle changes, psychological approaches, whilst, where possible, keeping conventional prescriptions in reserve as an alternative!  What has surprised and at times shocked me is the resistance and sometimes very personal criticism from many different people and organisations to these approaches to the point where access to these approaches is hindered or blocked.  It is being made increasingly hard to continue as a medical doctor taking this holistic and natural approach to illness. 

During the pandemic, an increasing number of patients have been seeking us out and I wonder if perhaps one of the legacies it will leave is the realisation of the importance of well-being and that there remains a lot we don't know about illness.  We should be prepared to work at health and the difference traditions of healing each of which have something to offer and that the medical profession could learn much from welcoming diversity of thought and approach.

I have particularly witnessed homeopathy take a real reputational beating, making the word almost toxic to mention to a medical audience. But the principles of like treating like and using minimum doses remain sound and when you understand the body’s symptoms are the reaction of the illness and not the illness itself, it make sense to use medicines that can cause similar symptoms in healthy people, so called homeopathic provings. As part of the global homeopathic community, I wonder if we have invested too heavily in trying to establish legitimacy according to the scientific method of double blind controlled trials. These studies are not designed to look at a complex system using multiple interacting treatments and support that mostly exclude the inter-personal and relational dynamic that is at the centre of much of the healing art. There is no doubt in my mind that my ability to relate to patients with multiple different symptoms and to formulate a multi-faceted approach for their treatment in a holistic way, is facilitated by my understanding of the hundreds of homeopathic remedies. Where each remedy has physical and psychological aspects that I have grown to understand like a different psychological archetype that can be used to map the complex symptom pictures that patients seek advice for. Knowing these and what triggers their susceptibility allows me to compare, contrast, categorise, inform and advise individuals on many levels. How sad then that this knowledge base and skill set is being given such a hard time – almost forced underground.

It does raise the question though 'if it is useful how does it work and 'what is the mechanism'?  While delighted in the inquiry in to and the deepening of our understanding of how things work, I remain humbled by the complexity and artistry that working with patients has put me in touch with. To reduce people to a linear flow diagram type series of biochemical causes and reactions seems not only inadequate but potentially dangerous.  I wonder if this reductionist sometimes dehumanising approach underlies some of the brusqueness that many of my patients report during conventional treatment.

When I used to teach medical students about complementary medicine I would often start by asking them ‘how much of medicine that they have learnt now is the same as what was practiced 30 or 40 years ago’?  The truth is only a fraction of what we do now, probably less than 10%, is the same. They would often get close to this percentage but then I would ask them ‘how much of medicine that they have learnt now is likely to be the same in 30 or 40 years time?’, they found this really hard to answer. I pointed out why would they expect it to be any different and its quite likely only about 10% of what they are learning now is likely to be the same in 30 – 40 years time. Of course we want to better understand the mechanisms behind how our body and mind work but the reality is we have a very limited understanding of what really goes on in the body or mind, what lies behind susceptibility to an infection and why the immune system struggles and fights itself in auto-immune disease.  Also,  what the complex inter-action with the environment means in terms of well-being and what we can each do to maximise our well-being both at a personal level and even more so at a population level.

There’s a tendency to think that at this point in time we understand most of what there is to be understood about how health works. I wonder if this isn’t hubris and that really there is no reason to think we know more than we don’t know about how our health works and how an individual functions. If you think of a spectrum between knowing nothing and knowing everything there is to be known where do you think we are at the present time? Unless you really truly believe we are up near the end of the spectrum knowing the vast majority of everything there is to be known, leaving space for there to be unknowns, celebrate them, enjoy them and make use of these approaches we experience as beneficial even if we don’t fully understand how they work.