An Introduction to Homeopathy and its Practice
Homeopathy is system of medicine which is based on natural laws which have always existed but which were only discovered, understood and applied therapeutically some 200 years ago. 'Similia similibus curentur' is the Latin phrase which was then chosen to describe the 'law of similars' which underpins homeopathy's application - put simply it means 'like cures like'.
The way of similars, the homeopathic way, is to give the suffering patient who has a set a of particular symptoms which characterise their condition, a minute dose of a substance which in large doses causes similar symptoms of an artificially inflicted disturbance in a healthy person. e.g. homeopathically prepared doses of onion (allium cepa) will treat certain cases of hay fever where the symptoms match those of someone suffering the effects of inhaling the fumes of a fresh chopped onion, homeopathically prepared coffee (coffea tosta) is used to treat certain types of sleeplessness which resemble the sleeplessness caused by drinking coffee.
The symptom expression of each remedy is discovered primarily through a standard procedure called a 'proving' where a substance is tested on a group of healthy volunteers for its effects and the symptoms recorded and compared to produce the information which defines that particular remedy. Each homeopathic medicine has its unique symptom expression recorded in the homeopathic 'materia medica'
The Practice of Classical or Unicist homeopathy involves a detailed case-taking by the homeopath where the patient is examined and listened to while they explain in as much detail as possible their present symptoms, thoughts and feelings and the past history which has led up to the present reason for consulting the homeopath. After recording the patient's case the homeopath will analyse the whole picture and by comparing the symptoms to the known remedies in the 'materia medica' seek to find the single remedy which best covers the patient's expressed symptoms mental, emotional and physical. This one remedy will be given to the patient in an appropriate potency and frequency of repetition according to the homeopath's assessment of their need. After a suitable interval the patient will return to see the homeopath to assess the effect of the treatment and receive more treatment as and when appropriate. The number of appointments, number of remedies and amount of treatment will vary for each patient according to their condition and its severity.
History and evolution
Following its discovery 200 years ago by Samuel Hahnemann a German doctor, the practice of homeopathy spread rapidly throughout the world and has been practised in many countries ever since. During the 20th century the advent of much of the new pharmacy and surgical techniques of modern conventional medicine led to a temporary decline in homeopathy's popularity in many countries. Now it is once again rapidly regaining popularity around the world as an alternative option to conventional medicine for the treatment of many conditions which conventional medicine only has limited effect in. Homeopathy is also useful at times as a complementary therapy when the effects of conventional treatment can be supported or mitigated as the case may be.
Field of application
In all European and other countries homeopathic medicines are widely used by members of the public for the treatment of minor injuries and simple self-limiting ailments in the home. There are an increasing number of books on the market which offer indications on such treatment.
In all European countries doctors who have done additional training in homeopathy and an increasing number of homeopaths who train solely in homeopathy as a discrete clinical discipline treat patients for a wide range of conditions. As with any therapy homeopathy has certain limitations in which conditions it can treat but it is probably true to say that it is one of the therapies with the broadest scope in terms of the range of illnesses it can treat as well as the severity of pathology being suffered . It is particularly useful in a whole range of conditions for which conventional medicine either has nothing to offer or offers only palliative approaches of 'symptom control' or 'disease management e.g. allergic complaints, eczema, asthma, arthritis, mental illness, digestive problems etc.
Homeopathic medicines are prepared from source substances derived from all three of nature's kingdoms, vegetable, mineral and animal as well as from the realm of energy where medicines have been produced from different forms of radiation for example. The standardised process of 'potentisation' involving repeated serial steps of dilution and succussion by which all homeopathic medicines are prepared renders all original source materials innocuous to the human system. The potentised medicine maintains the curative properties of the original source substance which are effective when a chosen medicine is applied homeopathically to a particular patient according to the 'law of similars'.
Potentised medicines are prepared according to the instructions recorded in homeopathic pharmacopoeia. The two main pharmacopoeia used in Europe are the German and French pharmacopoeia which differ in a number of ways. There is currently a project underway to produce a European Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia to eventually replace the existing ones.
Homeopathic medicines are uniquely recognised within European Union pharmaceutical legislation by two directives (92/73/EEC & 92/74/EEC) which acknowledge the particular nature of homeopathic medicines and give them special status and requirements alongside the rest of conventional pharmacy. The main difference in requirements is that for single homeopathic medicines for which no therapeutic claim is made proof of efficacy is not required for them to be licensed and be put on the market.
There are currently some 3000+ remedies listed in the homeopathic materia medica. This list is continually being added to as new medicines are 'proved' i.e. tested, for their therapeutic potential on groups of healthy humans.
Studies and diplomas
The practice and study of homeopathy is unregulated in most European countries so there is no official definition of what is required to produce a competent homeopath. However two European organisations, one which represents the professional homeopaths and one which represents the medical homeopaths have each produced recommendations for the curriculum and syllabus of homeopathic training required to produce competent, safe homeopathic practitioners.
The European Council for Classical Homeopathy (ECCH) which represents the majority of professional and heilpraktiker homeopaths in Europe published their 'Guidelines for Homeopathic Education' in 1993. The European Committee For Homeopathy(ECH), which represents the majority of doctors who practise unicist homeopathy throughout Europe, published the 'European Programme of Basic Teaching Standards in Homeopathy' in 1992.
These documents have both been influential in establishing common standards of education and training across Europe and have become recognised as the established requirements within the profession. However there is as yet no single diploma or qualification which has Europe-wide recognition. Neither have agreements been set up for free movement and mutual recognition for homeopaths training in one country and moving to practise in another.
Both ECCH and ECH have as Members national registering bodies of professional homeopaths and medical homeopaths from each country rather than individuals as members. Both Councils are made up of representatives from the member associations.
The Legal Status of Homeopathy and Homeopathic Practitioners
Homeopathy is tolerated in all European countries. Its practice by medical doctors is tolerated in all countries. Practice by professional homeopaths is tolerated in a majority of European countries. Only in a small minority of countries, which by law restrict the practice of all medicine to medical doctors, are professional homeopaths legally unable to practise.
Neither the European Commission or the European Parliament have produced any position statement on who may or may not practise homeopathy. The delivery of health care services is considered to be a concern of each member state rather than one of the European Union.
Of all so-called 'complementary' or 'non-conventional' therapies homeopathy is probably the one in which there is the largest established research base of past and present activity. In 1997 the Homeopathic Medicine Research Group, which was established by Directorate Commission X11 E of the European Union Commission two years earlier, published a comprehensive report of its findings into the status of homeopathic research together with a Dictionary of Homeopathy and data-base of homeopathic trials.
The report concluded that there was sufficient evidence to continue to develop more effective research into homeopathy and its effectiveness but that as most of the trials surveyed were of low methodological quality much work was needed to improve trial quality before any truly definitive statements could be made. This statement supports the findings of two separate meta-analyses of homeopathic clinical research trials in 1992 and 1997 which both concluded that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the effects of homeopathic treatment cannot be explained by calling them mere placebo effect but that more research of greater quality needs to be carried out before final proof can be established.