(Part 1 of 2)
Interview and Translation by Linda V. Nurra, Ph.D.
Dr. Elio Rossi is a medical doctor with a specialization in infectious diseases who has been practicing homeopathy for 40 years. He is internationally renowned for his advocacy efforts for homeopathy, as well as his prolific work as an educator, conference presenter, editor and author of more than 250 publications. Over the past 20 years, he has been working for the recognition and integration of homeopathy and other complementary medicines within the Italian public healthcare system. These efforts have resulted in the passing of legislation at the national and regional levels and the opening of 91 complementary medicine clinics within hospitals in Tuscany alone.
Can you start by telling us how your homeopathy career began, and also a bit about what was happening around you in Italy at the time?
My career as a homeopath began forty years ago, when I started spending time with a distant relative of mine in Milan in 1976. His name was Mario Garlasco. He was a medical doctor and a nutrition specialist – a pioneer in many ways. He advocated for a natural, organic diet and was among the first to bring fasting therapy, macrobiotics, and chiropractic to Italy in the 1960s. He then converted to homeopathy and was one of the few practicing homeopaths in Italy at the time.
I was curious about his work so I would go to his office in the evenings, after he finished his visits, and he would tell me about homeopathy. I was still in medical school and I knew nothing about it at the time. I soon discovered that other people in my circle were looking for someone to teach them, and they had found another homeopath by the name of Carlo Cenerelli.
Cenerelli and Garlasco, who already knew each other, joined forces. Together they taught a course through a school by the name of IMO (Istituto di Medicina Omeopatica), which was directed by a lay homeopath and patron of homeopathy in Milan, Count Gian Carlo Dal Verme. Dal Verme was a unique character – a chess master who fell in love with homeopathy and ran an import-export business for homeopathic remedies. He was very helpful because he made books and meeting space available to us. From February to June 1976 we met weekly for this course.
It was interesting because, at the time, Cenerelli and Garlasco were part of a group called Staphysagria, which met in Belgium and followed the footsteps of Pierre Schmidt, the Swiss homeopath who passed away in 1987, in his mid-90s. He was the greatest European classical homeopath of the last century because around 1920, he had been to North America and had studied intensively with Kent’s students and followers. He also came back with the repertory full of additions made in Kent’s own hand – quite a treasure to have at that time.
So Pierre Schmidt, whom I met in Geneva, would gather every month in Lyon with a group of European homeopaths who went there to learn from him. These courses, which were transcribed and eventually published, are commonly referred to as les cahiers de Schmidt. They were an important contribution because they ensured that the repertory wasn’t lost in classical homeopathy.
Schmidt’s was fundamentally a repertorial teaching. He had a very thorough knowledge of the repertory and materia medica that today probably doesn’t exist any more. All the classical European schools of the last century, from the 1950s on, followed the teachings of Schmidt in some way. Of course they evolved, but that was the foundation.
Now, those of us who were gathering in Milan, we didn’t feel like we had a Master teacher, because these masters didn’t present themselves as such. We didn’t have any formal schools in Italy at the time, but our teachers suggested that we form a group, rather than a school. They asked the most active of Schmidt’s followers, who had been forming groups in other parts of Europe, to come to Italy to teach us. His name was Jacques Imberechts, a Belgian from Bruxelles.
What was it like, working with Jacques Imberechts?
Imberechts’ message to us was: “There are no masters. We are all students. The great masters are few and old. We need to form a group.” He encouraged each of us to contribute our resources, share them, and try to learn homeopathy together. And that’s what we did.
By tradition, groups like this were named after a remedy, and this was a remedy that we had to extract from the repertory. Of course we didn’t have software repertories at the time, so we had to take the hardcopy repertory and copy out, page by page, all the rubrics where that remedy appeared. It took us a lot of time but he made us do it to make sure we leafed through every page of the repertory. Unfortunately for us, that remedy wasn’t Zizia, but rather Lycopodium! And that’s how our group came to be named.
Imberechts’ teaching fundamentally had three levels. One was philosophical or theoretical, mostly based on the Organon and therefore entirely classical. The other was the repertory, and the third was materia medica. Of course we also did clinical cases. We didn’t read anything modern – mostly Hahnemann, Kent and classic authors from the previous centuries, up through Stuart Close. We carefully examined the repertory, also because at the time additions were considered very important. These were taken from Schmidt’s repertory and from other authors, and we would make our additions by hand in pencil, along with all the cross-references because we didn’t want to miss any possibilities, any connections among rubrics. It was a very meticulous labor.
Imberechts was an extremely open and generous person. He used to come to us, as he did for groups in other European countries, and he didn’t want any payment aside from his travel expenses. All this was done in a completely voluntary manner and without profit. The concept didn’t even exist, really. The group got together every three months for three days over a weekend. He would come and teach, then give us homework that we regularly didn’t do… and in any case, we all learned a lot.
In December 1977, still in the early days of Lycopodium, Imberechts proposed doing an intensive week-long seminar in the Alps in January 1978. We would gather to study from 9 to 11 a.m., then ski until 4 p.m. and then study again, with just a break for dinner, from 5 p.m. to midnight. It was a beautiful experience. At the time, it cost 200,000 lire for a one-week ski vacation in Pila, and we only had about 20,000 lire each to chip in. So instead of staying at the Club Valtur, we rented two rooms and all slept in there, about 15 of us. These were somewhat heroic times…
At what point did you decide that you were ready to start working as a homeopath?
In July 1978, a group of about 10 of us decided to rent some space and start working. Half of the group was made up of doctors, and the other half of students like me who would each pair up with a doctor for the visits. This was in Milan and we called the space AMO, which stood for “Ambulatorio Medico Omeopatico” [Homeopathic Medical Clinic]. We earned very little at the time because, in some sense, we were all students and our goal was to get practice. The little we did earn, we would put into a common pot so that our group could grow.
Another interesting thing about that period is that we used placebo a lot. In fact, per Imberechts’ directions, we would systematically prescribe placebo in every case before giving the remedy. This was to try to distinguish the real reaction from a placebo reaction – something not entirely easy to do in homeopathy, as in all medicine. We would see the patient and give the placebo, and he would come back after a month saying he felt better. We would then repeat the placebo and, when they came back saying the effect was gone, that’s when we gave the remedy. The problem of course was that people weren’t feeling so well, so we decided to stop. But all in all it was useful because it helped us distinguish generic effects from the consultation or other factors from real remedy effects and aggravations. Little by little, people started to break away and start their own practices.
What led you to break out on your own?
I was working in Infectious Diseases – I’m an infectious diseases specialist – and my work had been focused on hepatitis since 1979. That was my “regular” job through which I made a living at the hospital. In 1983, this relative of mine Mario Garlasco, who was my first teacher, became ill, so I worked alongside him at first and then later took his place – at which point I left the hospital and dedicated myself fully to clinical work in homeopathy.