The basic principle of homeopathy is that a substance that triggers a certain disease can also be used to treat that disease. This is referred to as the “Law of Similars”. As well as this “like cures like” principle, homeopaths also believe that shaking and diluting the substance increases its potency – a process referred to as potentization or succussion. This form of alternative medicine was first developed and described by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796.
When Hahnemann first named the discipline in 1807, mainstream medicine involved ineffective practices such as bloodletting and purging. Complex mixtures such as Venice treacle which was made up of 64 substances including opium, myrrh, and even viper’s flesh were also being used.
Hahnemann thought these methods were irrational and dangerous and instead promoted the use of single drugs at reduced doses. He also encouraged a vitalistic perspective on how living organisms function and believed that the cause of disease had both spiritual and physical aspects.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Hahnemann wrote a book called The Organon of Healing Art, in which he introduced the idea of hypothetical pathological entities called “miasms” that underlie disease. Hahnemann claimed that each disease was associated with a particular miasm and exposure to that miasm would cause local symptoms such as a rash to develop. If these symptoms were treated with medication, however, Hahnemann said the disease would be “driven deeper” into the body – a process referred to by homeopaths as suppression.
Practitioners of homeopathy believe that this suppression of disease is what eventually leads to the internal organs becoming diseased. They maintain that all disease has an underlying chronic, deep-seated and inherited cause that cannot be effectively treated by opposing the symptoms. Homeopaths believe that the miasm would still remain and that the only way to correct a deep-seated illness is to eliminate the disturbance being caused by a vital force.
Traditional homeopathy is based on these philosophical foundations that Hahnemann first established and which have become refined over the two centuries that have passed since. Further details regarding the dynamics of health and disease in homeopathy and the laws that guide healing are outlined below.
The Law of Similars
This fundamental law of homeopathy requires that the application of a remedy is made from a substance that causes a pattern of illness best matched to the person’s symptoms. The term homeopathy can therefore be broken down into the Greek words “homo” for similar and “pathos” for illness. The person’s pattern of illness is established through several sources including the collection of clinical data and formal experiment.
The Single Remedy
To establish the disease pattern, all aspects of a person’s being are considered, meaning treatment usually involves the administration of a single remedy at a time, even if several symptoms are present. This approach is used to find out the single cause of an illness. The remedies prepared may be derived from either natural or synthetic materials.
Individualization of treatment
Since the single remedy is selected based on several factors rather than the main complaint a person presents with or a medical diagnosis, homeopaths believe it is tailored to each patient. Homeopathic treatment is therefore said to provide individualized therapy that can only be decided on after specific case analysis.
Homeopaths are highly attentive to the process they refer to as suppression, when a person’s symptoms might improve after a specific therapy, but the individual actually feels worse overall in terms of depression or fatigue, for example. Homeopaths believe that conventional therapies are suppressive approaches, which have harmful effects in the long-term.
Order of Healing
Homeopaths believe treatment that obeys the laws of natural healing (rather than suppressive healing) must lead to healing that occurs in a particular order. Indicators that non-suppressive healing is occurring are given below:
- The original symptoms frequently recur before resolving completely, but are less severe and last for shorter periods.
- In cases of severe conditions, any symptoms relating to vital organs will resolve first, with less important tissues such as the skin improving at a later stage.
- Symptoms affecting the upper portion of the body and head will improve before those affecting the lower body parts do.