Homeopathy is a relative newcomer to the panoply of natural therapies. Like most natural therapies, this system is founded on the belief that the body heals itself, although a nudge is sometimes needed. In this case, the nudge comes from homeopathic remedies.
A central tenet of homeopathy is that like cures like. In other words, a tiny dose of a substance that, in larger doses, causes similar symptoms jumpstarts healing.
To create these minuscule doses, the substance in question is diluted, succussed (shaken), diluted, succussed, diluted…until not one molecule remains. Theoretically, what remains is an energetic hangover of that substance. Experiments have shown that homeopathic solutions can alter the crystalline structure of the water in which they’re dissolved.
After German physician Samuel Hahnemann graduated from medical school in 1779, he began his quest for less toxic treatments than the purging, blood-letting, and heavy metals popular at the time. For instance, he sampled cinchona, a South American tree from whose bark the anti-malarial compound quinine was eventually purified, and discovered that a substantial dose actually triggered malaria-like symptoms. With the help of friends, family, and followers he kept up these so-called “provings,” finding out what symptoms various substances might produce in higher doses. In hair-of-the-dog fashion, tiny doses of a substance would cure a similar constellation of symptoms.
This principle of “like cures like” became known as the Law of Similars. While healers as far back as Hippocrates had recognized this principle, Hahnemann was the first to generate an entire material medica and system of medicine. He named this healing practice “homeopathy,” from the Greek words for similar (homios) and suffering (pathos). He devoted the rest of his life to homeopathy by experimenting, lecturing, writing books, and practicing until his death in 1843. Homeopathy spread from Europe to North America. In 1848, students of Dr. Hahnemann founded the Homeopathic Medical College in Pennsylvania. The name later became Hahnemann Medical College then Hahnemann University. The American Medical Association mounted a largely successful campaign to squelch homeopathy. For more information on history, read A Condensed History of Homeopathy by Dana Ullman, M.P.H. Better yet, check out Ullman’s book, Discovering Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century.
Modern Homeopathic Practice
Homeopaths spend a lot of time carefully interviewing a patient about his or her particular symptoms in order to find the most appropriate remedy out of hundreds of possibilities. Following the principle of like cures like, practitioners prescribe tiny amounts of a substance that, in overdose, would cause the very symptoms a patient is having. For instance, someone with heart palpitations, anxiety, and racing thoughts might receive an extremely diluted dose of coffee. Taking “less is more” to the extreme, homeopaths believe that the lower the dose, the greater the potency. The lay public can learn about homeopathy from books, seminars, and online courses. Homeopathic products, though not as potent as those available to professionals, are available in natural foods stores and, increasingly, in drugstores and supermarkets. Homeopathic remedies are safe. While the correct remedy may safely jump-start healing, an inappropriate remedy neither cures nor harms.
Because homeopathy is not regulated, there is no set training or educational requirement. However, training programs in homeopathy do exist and are recommended to anyone interested in using this healing modality in a clinical setting.
A good place to start is by taking the homeopathy class offered through the Integrative Therapeutic Practices Program at MSU Denver. Introduction to Homeopathy - HES 3170-3. (During the 2012-2013 academic year, the course number will change to ITP 3300). This course explores the theoretical basis of homeopathy and allows students to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of homeopathy and allopathic approaches. Students are not taught to practice homeopathy nor are they asked to become proponents of this sometimes controversial therapy. However, students are challenged to explore the historical development of a system of medicine that evolved out of a period of great intellectualism in Europe – a time marked by fundamental shifts in the perception of the natural laws of the universe and the laws that govern human health and disease. The resultant philosophical system of medicine stands in stark contrast to our current system. Students finish the course with the tools to become “out-of-the-box” thinkers about current health-care issues. Prerequisites: Level I General Studies; ITP 2700 (HES 27750) Holistic Health.
MSU Denver’s homeopathy course provides a springboard for exploring the in-depth training programs offered across the United States. Distance-learning options are also available. The National Center for Homeopathy maintains a list of schools.
“The Homeopathy School of Boulder, a well-respected training program, has been around for many years and has graduated some top-notch homeopaths. Barbara Sideneck, the head of the school, has created several options for students including a two-year course in which students attend class once a month over a weekend to receive lectures, discuss cases, and learn from any number of world-class homeopaths from around the globe.”
Steve Rissman, N.D.
Associate Professor in the Integrative Therapeutic Practices Program
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Regulation & Average Income
The practice of homeopathy is neither regulated nor licensed in the United States. Many homeopathic practitioners hold other degrees. For instance, nurses, physician assistants, and doctors (naturopathic, osteopathic, chiropractic, and medical) complete additional training in order to incorporate homeopathy into their practices. Some homeopaths do not otherwise hold a license to practice medicine and work as health counselors.
Annual income varies depending upon experience, hours worked, success in recruiting clients, whether the practitioner already has a medical degree, and other factors.
For more information and to find a homeopath check out the National Center for Homeopathy or the North American Society of Homeopaths. You might also enjoy the Huffington Post blog maintained by homeopath and prolific author Dana Ullman, M.P.H. Many books are available on the subject as well.
Linda B. White, M.D. is a freelance writer, the coauthor of The Herbal Drugstore and Kids, Herbs & Health and is an affiliate professor in the Integrative Therapeutic Practices Program at MSU Denver.