(this is an expanded version of the piece currently on Huffington Post)
I’ve been a psychotherapist for 25 years. I believe it’s an important part of my job to make my clients as comfortable as possible from the first phone contact. Despite all reasonable efforts, though, the first interview seems to still be somewhat awkward and difficult for new patients. Really, it’s very understandable. They don’t know me. They feel vulnerable and unsure because they don’t know exactly what’s expected. They’re sometimes not even fully clear about why they’re there except they know they want to feel better.
The homeopathic interview may be even more of an unknown for some people. Not only does it start with the same “unknowns” as the social work assessment, but it adds some new ones, like the simple but monumental fact that it turns allopathic or “standard” medical practice on its head. You may have called the homeopath to get rid of that recalcitrant psoriasis, but he or she keeps talking about whether you kick the covers off at night, how you feel about injustice, or whether your sadness is worse in the morning or at night.
Knowing what to expect of the process and what your homeopath is hoping to learn from you may make the experience more comfortable and more productive. The following is not a medical manual, but a primer for those looking to work with a classical homeopath. Hopefully, it will give you a good idea of what to expect and how to participate so you get the most out of it.
Preparing Yourself Philosophically
One of the fortunate aspects of my practice is that I see people more frequently because the primary focus of it is mental health treatment. Even though it also takes physical conditions into account, people almost always call me because they’re sad, anxious, grief-stricken, panicked, or in some way emotionally distressed.
Unless a person comes specifically to be treated homeopathically and has already had some experience with the philosophy and practice of classical homeopathy, I usually anticipate spending at least some time in the first or second session on education. I give material for reading, lead them to the National Center for Homeopathy website, and take as much time as he or she needs answering questions.
What you can do, then, to make the time you spend more efficient and effective when you are actively seeking treatment from a homeopath is to learn a little bit about it beforehand.
In my opinion, the best book for the starting patient is Impossible Cure by A. Lansky. It is written in clear, concise prose and doesn’t fall back on “homeospeak” so you can follow her all the way through. And hers is an amazing, personal story of hope.
The principles of classical homeopathy are the following:
Like cures like.
This is the manner of cure. It is also called the Law of Similars and it is the way all proper remedies are chosen. It means that the practitioner is going to ask you a host of questions intended to draw out information that will help him or her choose the remedy that is most “similar” to your totality of symptoms.
The simplest example of the Law of Similars is what we do when we get grease on our hands. We clean it with soap (or, if you’re out in the garage, Goop), which is little more than fat. The soap removes the grease because it is grease.
In a homeopathic case, it may look like this: A little boy suddenly gets a raging fever with a pounding headache, dilated pupils, cheeks so red they could be purple and becomes delirious. The remedy a homeopath would choose (and there would be a couple of contenders) would have to produce those symptoms in a healthy person. By giving the remedy that would generate that particular type of febrile state to a person with it, it is cured.
This is why quinine works curatively for malaria—because when it is given to a healthy person over and over, it creates symptoms similar to malaria. Like cures like. This principle goes back to Hippocrates and has been considered by homeopaths as the basis for all true healing.
This is the road of cure in homeopathy. In simplest terms it refers to the way and the order in which the pathology will be healed. Cure moves from top down, from present to past, and from in to out (from the spiritual-mental-emotional down through the organs from most to least important and finally out to discharge in a benign way, e.g., a runny nose, brief diarrhea, fever, or skin eruption).
One remedy at a time.
This is the technique of cure and it is an obvious but overlooked wisdom. If multiple remedies are given too frequently and in too rapid a succession (except in extreme and acute situations), the case can be lost. This is even more true with combination remedies (pharmacy concoctions that include multiple remedies, even those that antidote one another).
It is terribly important to let each one reveal in its time what it must. Some remedies take longer than others. We all respond differently at different times to our environments. Remedies are no exception.
The Nature of Pathology: Layers
This is not a standard homeopathic “principle” but it’s one that leads me to ask of patients regularly: Patience. We are not out to just make a symptom disappear at the expense of your vitality and health. We want to get rid of the psoriasis but not at the expense of seeing you develop uterine fibroids or heart disease.
We want you to be healed. And that takes time. When patients ask me, “Well, how much time,” I have to say, “As long as your organism needs. You’ll tell me how much time.”
The reason for this is that there are layers to everything today. Including pathology.
Western practitioners often mistake the presenting problem for the only problem they need to cure, not having been trained to see the embedding of one pathology over the other or the inheritance one may have received from one’s ancestors.
These are levels of defense. We know this by what happens in our relationships. First bad joke, we get a giggle and a snort. Second bad joke, we get a “cut it out.” Third bad joke, we get kicked in the shins.
It is common knowledge that when an organism is injured, it inflames. It is a mechanism of repair. Homeopaths trace what happens if the injury is not healed (by itself, with proper medicine or the removal of inflammatory agent): the inflammation worsens, leading to induration (hardening). If that is not healed, then the organism resorts to its last defense to save the whole. Thus a cancerous tumor or an ulcer is a result of this process at the genetic level.
In homeopathy there are three basic levels:
Physical level: Inflammation (fevers, rhinitis, cystitis), pain, spasm, constriction, sensitivity
Emotional level: Anxiety, apprehension, irritability, anger, sensitivity, insecurity.
Physical level: Accumulation (calluses, warts), synthesis, deposition, and proliferation
Emotional level: Hyper-anxiety, fearfulness, hypervigilance, Super-vivaciousness, showmanship (most of American TV), boasting, rigidity, hardness (like calluses), precocity, collection (OCD). Also the opposite: too relaxed (a loss of collagen, dropped uterus), looseness in character, overly yielding, shame, frivolousness, bashfulness
Physical Level: Exaggeration, distortion (pointed teeth, curved spine), destruction (cancer), auto-immune diseases, mutations (scoliosis)
Emotional Level: perversion, cruelty, hysteria or mania, (borderline personality disorder, psychosis), distortion of reality and loss of connectedness, delusions, destruction, fearlessness, loss of will to live, loss of senses (smell, sight etc…).
Less Really is More
This concept is one of the major reasons why people have a hard time understanding and choosing homeopathy.
In homeopathy we do not use gross quantities of a substance. We use smaller doses, often below Avogadro’s number—meaning that if you looked at the medicine with an electron microscope you would see nothing. This is also called a “mole.” The mole, as defined by Wikipedia, “is a unit of measurement used in chemistry to express amounts of a chemical substance, defined as an amount of a substance that contains as many elementary entities (e.g., atoms, molecules, ions, electrons) as there are atoms in 12 grams of pure carbon-12 (12C), the isotope of carbon with atomic weight 12. This corresponds to a value of 6.02214179(30)×1023 elementary entities of that substance. It is one of the base units in the International System of Units, and has the unit symbol mol.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_%28unit%29)
The way I explain it to patients is this: Homeopathy is an energy delivery system, like a musical instrument or a beating heart or a scream of “fire” in an auditorium. So if the remedy is sulphur 30c, there are no molecules of sulphur in it. It acts on the vital force (and this is important!!!) by energetic resonance. It does not work on our bodies directly the same way that taking an aspirin or steroid does. It seems to work more along the lines of quantum physics than Newtonian law. (Poitevin, Bernard (2005). “Jacques Benveniste: a personal tribute”. Homeopathy 94 (2): 138–139. doi:10.1016/j.homp.2005.02.004.)
The rule of thumb is: The smaller the dose, the more potent.
How does this happen? According to one study, homeopathy works because water has memory.
(E. Dayenas; F. Beauvais, J. Amara , M. Oberbaum, B. Robinzon, A. Miadonna, A. Tedeschit, B. Pomeranz, P. Fortner, P. Belon, J. Sainte-Laudy, B. Poitevin and J. Benveniste (30 June 1988). “Human basophil degranulation triggered by very dilute antiserum against IgE” (PDF). Nature 333 (6176): 816–818. doi:10.1038/333816a0. PMID 2455231. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v333/n6176/pdf/333816a0.pdf.)
From Benveniste’s observations, it appears that what’s been in it has a resonant effect. It is similar to the way our bodies remember a trauma. We have body memory even when the trauma is long gone and resonate with similar states or situations, until that original traumatic injury is healed.
As a psychotherapist, I think the tendency of trauma victims to unconsciously set themselves in traumatizing situations again and again is a desire to self-heal in some ways…they are searching for the similar agent. Freud was close to this when he talked about the repetition compulsion. People are often horrified (and not unreasonably) when they engage in unhealthy behavior time and again. They rightly want it to stop. But when it is framed this way and they can see that they have only been seeking resolution, it becomes not only easier to understand but to actually resolve. They feel less guilty with unconscious complicity, less victimized by their pasts and more empowered to move towards change. I’ve seen this understanding alone start to bring about healing even before a remedy has been delivered.
Yegads! No Coffee???
Perhaps the hardest thing for some patients is the need to temporarily give up coffee. I’ve seen patients give up vicodin, birth control pills, marijuana, and essential oils quicker than their daily java joy. I can absolutely understand it, too. I love coffee. But it is an unavoidable part of the homeopath’s process.
Although I’ve met some homeopaths who do not worry about coffee or other known antidotes (steroids, marijuana, camphor) very much, many of us do take the more conservative path. In general, it’s best to be prepared to have your homeopath ask you to leave the java (and the camphor) aside until you’ve reached a solid plateau of good health. It doesn’t antidote everyone or every remedy, but for most homeopaths it isn’t worth the risk of complicated the case.
What Do They Need to Know THAT For?
Come to the interview ready for a lot of unusual questions. It will not be enough for us to just “name that disease.”
What is important when we look at a patient and what are we going to ask you? We will generally work along the following areas even though we all have different styles and personalities.
Interior function (most important):
Creativity, compassion, forgiveness, centeredness, relatedness, empathy, adaptability, consistency in relationships, integrity/honesty, and consistency between intention and behavior.
This may not coincide exactly with interior function. However, I believe and have found that our pathologies normally express themselves poetically or holographically. You may recall the expression, “as above, so below.” It is true for us, as well. So we will ask you about situations that reveal your capacity for appropriate behavior (clothing, responsiveness to social cues), money management, job status, time management, socialization, housing.
Parents’ medical history, personal medical history, current disease state (psoric, sycotic, syphilitic), diet (especially cravings and aversions), exercise, chronicity (how long the problem has persisted), periodicity (how often it occurs and whether there are specific cycles), and modalities (what makes it better or worse).
Rigidity, belief system, presence, judgment, fear.
The Art of the Interview
When I teach clinicians and medical personnel (Verbal First Aid, crisis protocols, and alternative healing principles, etc…), I always remind them that questions, no matter how clever or how technically astute, are no substitute for the therapeutic relationship. There is an art to homeopathy that is not “technical” and cannot be acquired solely by accumulating knowledge. I’ve met people who could recite remedies and their exact properties by memory, but could not see a patient in his totality and could not, therefore, come up with the right remedy.
Part of what makes a homeopathic interview successful is the synergy between you, the patient, and your homeopath. There must be a give and take, a relationship of trust, and an open dialogue. If you have questions, ask them. If you have fears, share them. The homeopath must observe and listen, but no one can see what you do not present.
If in fact there is as much art as science to a good case-taking, then you are as much a part of that creative process as your homeopath. Be as open and as honest as you can and you will reap the rewards in the health, vitality and freedom you have always longed for.