After the debate with my last articles on this topic, I find I couldn't agree with the critics more. Homeopathy is strange and sounds magical. When I try to explain it to people -- despite years of study and personal/professional experience -- I wind up sounding like my worst woo-woo nightmare, stumbling over words like "energy," "resonance" and "organism."
As I stumble, my husband patiently awaits my sound byte, still anxiously hoping I can give him a way to explain what I do to save him from sounding just as ridiculous.
As he is a musician, I put it to him this way: "Think of it as you do of music... notes and chords... entire arrangements of single notes (or combinations thereof) and the spaces between them."
He looked at me, single eyebrow raised. I had crossed over onto his turf. I'd better know what I'm talking about.
"In homeopathy, you can think of both the human being (or any living creature for that matter) and the remedy as pieces of music. A person comes in for treatment and the disease or pathology is presenting as a song, out of tune with the rest of the person when in a healthy state. We look for a remedy that most closely matches the totality of that pathology's song. When we give it to the patient, the remedy cancels the disease. A song for a song. Like cures like."
Eyebrow is lowered. I am momentarily reprieved. "Is it phase cancellation?"
"I'm not sure because it's not an opposing frequency, it's a similar one. But maybe the amplitudes are opposing."
Eyebrow is raised. I realize that I'm back to where I started.
Perhaps an easier way to see it is with this metaphor:
See yourself as a being of a million small crystals, each one with a frequency. When you become ill, some of those crystals change frequency and begin to vibrate or sing out of tune. When we choose a remedy, we choose it to best match those crystals that have fallen out of tune. When delivered, it shatters those sick crystals, leaving only the healthy ones behind.
Admittedly, it is a metaphor, and as such, still leaves a great deal unexplained. I can understand the frustration of allopaths and critics with the obvious absence of hard, linear facts that are repeatable regardless of the person or place. Compared to current pharmaceutical philosophy, making scientific "sense" of homeopathy is like trying to play ordinary billiards in a quantum pool hall.
The problem is that homeopathy is aimed at treating the individual with a single remedy, chosen specifically for him or her. It is not for treating masses of people with the same pill. Twenty people could have the "same" flu, but each one would need a different remedy (not necessarily Oscillococcinum) and be rightly cured because each one would manifest illness in a way that is utterly unique to him-/herself. We always treat the person, not the disease. As such it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to replicate homeopathic treatment the way pharmaceutical companies try to do in drug trials.
A Simple Case in Point
My dog, who is not generally considered a good candidate for placebo, was sitting in on a session with a young patient I had been seeing for quite a while. While he was curled up on the couch next to her, he looked up at my patient and she frowned, "God, what's wrong with him?!"
Without warning his eye had started bulging out of its socket. I was taken aback and instantly concerned. I begged her indulgence and called my homeopathic vet, who is located about two hours from us. He told me to take him for an emergency physical exam at a local hospital.
I asked for an emergency reschedule (she was in no danger and there was no threat to the therapeutic relationship) and rushed him over. After the exam, the local vet ruled out the more terrifying possibilities (rupture, tumor etc...) and pronounced it an inflammation, probably due to a scratch, spider bite or bee sting. She prescribed a bucket full of different pills and ointments.
More at ease now that there was no crisis and my panic had passed, I thanked her and left with just one of the ointments in case I didn't find the right remedy immediately.
When I got back, I went to the repertory (in a computer, unlike my first homeopathic physician) and made a scrupulous list of his visible symptoms. Obviously I could only surmise how he felt, so I didn't even try. These were the rubrics I chose for him:
1. Eye, inflammation
2. Eye, inflammation, acute
3. Generals, aggravated on the right side
4. Generals, sudden onset
5. Eye, lachrymation
6. Eye, protrusion with red discoloration.
The remedy was Apis Mellifica, potentized bee venom. This is a particularly straightforward example of how like (when it is potentized, meaning highly diluted to the smallest possible dose) cures like: Venom cancels out venom. Within minutes of giving the dog a few pellets, the inflammation was gone. And it never came back. No other treatment was necessary.
Is it always so straightforward? Hardly. I wish it were. It is especially more complicated when people come in with years and years of emotional suffering, chronic illness, and lists of medications sometimes two pages long. I had one patient on 27 medications because she had been diagnosed depressed. Was she feeling any better? Not in the slightest. It was a long haul to wellness for her with the incredible help of a thorough and patient physician.
Taking someone's case in this situation takes a great deal more time, sensitivity and patience than a simple inflammation. But the essential idea, the bedrock of the interview is the same: Find the remedy that matches the totality of symptoms, which means understanding precisely what it is in her life, in her experience, in her soul that has led to and expresses the essence of the state she is in. It is not enough to say someone is depressed. The word "depressed" doesn't really mean anything. To say, on the other hand, as one patient did, that she felt forsaken, was chronically sad because she felt all alone in the world yet she was averse to company -- that begins to narrow it down a bit. When she added that she had no will power, yet felt better from a good debate, a challenging puzzle, or a lively conversation (mental exertion ameliorates), we begin to see how "depression" expressed itself uniquely in her. The remedy that patient needed (based on those and other symptoms) was Natrum Silicatum.
Now, just because you're sad doesn't mean you should go buy Natrum Silicatum. That is the mistake a lot of people and even poorly trained homeopaths make. It is unlikely that you will receive the benefit she did because her state (remember those crystals) was a Natrum Silicatum state. When it was given, what was unhealthy shattered and left behind only what was vital and strong.
I do not blame the debunkers. Homeopathy is very hard to repeat experimentally precisely because of the way it works: Individually. And so much of its success is in the hands of the homeopath whose task it is to see the patient clearly for who he or she is, to see that particular light, to hear that singular song. This is a hard pill to swallow until you've seen it work. But when you have seen it -- it's the easiest one of all.