In this article, I’ll contrast the systems of allopathic and homeopathic diagnosis of individuals with psychiatric problems, and I’ll illustrate the latter with a case of bipolar disorder.
Allopathic psychiatric diagnoses prevent cure because they limit our minds. For one thing, they blind us to people’s strengths so we cannot deploy them to overcome their problems. A diagnosis labels only the sick part of an individual. And as it designates a part and not the whole, it refers to nothing that has the ability to resolve the disorder. After all, if you are psychologically ill, in order to solve your problem you need to use your strong points (e.g. intelligence, persistence, courage, ability to relate to others, physical stamina, specific talents and interests, etc.) to overcome your difficulties. Thus psychiatric diagnoses prevent us from imagining an individual’s full recovery. And we achieve only what we can imagine. As a consequence, only people can be cured, not disorders alone.
In constructing official diagnoses, the American Psychiatric Association and equivalent bodies cherry pick certain signs and symptoms of ill individuals, and disregard everything else that characterizes these people as unique human beings. The resulting diagnostic labels pose as entities with a bonafide, independent existence, yet they are only abstractions and not living reality. Treating abstractions cannot, and does not, cure real human beings.
Let’s examine a physical analogy. If you break your leg, your fracture will remain unhealed unless your body mobilizes its self-healing resources delivered by your circulatory system, immune system, nervous system and musculoskeletal system, not to mention the panoply of biochemical elements and processes that populate these systems.
Any treatment that targets a disorder while neglecting to mobilize the very self-healing resources required for cure will never cure. Even if the symptoms initially appear to succumb, they will rebound like a weighted Bozo the Clown pop-up toy. Psychiatrists regularly witness such recidivism with their pharmaceutical treatments. Accordingly, conventional psychiatric diagnoses guarantee chronicity and incurability. They ensure the styrofoam peanut effect of psychiatric diagnosis: That is, after a psychiatrist has labeled you with a specific disorder, you will never be rid of that diagnosis. It will cling to you with the static electrical charge generated by the limiting beliefs of mainstream psychiatry.
Say, for example, that you suffered in the past from severe anxiety attacks that prevented you from leaving your home, but you no longer have those symptoms. Then the psychiatrist you are now seeing for marital squabbles, an ostensibly unrelated problem, will likely include among the diagnoses she enters into your chart, Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia, in remission, with the italicized words implying that your problem is not really cured; rather that it is hiding within you like a herpes virus, waiting to re-emerge sooner or later when conditions conduce.
Psychiatric labels have other unfortunate effects. They stigmatize individuals and, even worse, prompt individuals to stigmatize themselves so that they reduce expectations of themselves. Moreover, psychiatric diagnoses are nouns. When we perceive our mental health problems to be nouns, their cure is less attainable. Instead, such problems should be reframed as verbs, linguistic elements that imply action, doing, or sometimes a state of being, instead of just a thing. A verb implies process and the potential for change whereas a noun implies stasis, sameness. Put differently, it is easier to change what you do or how you do it than it is to change what or who you are.
As an example, a patient might describe her problem as “anorexia nervosa.” However, she could, with coaching, rephrase it as “I starve myself whenever I am in new social situations.” This latter description implies the possibility of fundamental self-change. After all, now she will just have to learn how to deal with social situations better. There is nothing in that phrasing that indicates the problem to be immutable or refractory to the therapeutic mobilization of her inner resources. On the other hand, anorexia nervosa designates an illness, a thing that compels people to seek medical help so doctors can fix it through treatments that overpower the problem. If you think of your problem as an illness rather than a dysfunctional way of managing situations, you are less likely to view yourself as an instrument in your own cure.
Let us say Joe says to his new psychiatrist, “I want help with my depression.” Left unmodified as a treatment goal, the “depression” will resist cure through psychotherapy or pharmaceuticals. Joe cannot see, touch, hear, or visualize his “depression” because it is an abstract thing. Therefore, he can do nothing to fully and lastingly change it. But he can be aware of and change its manifestations, which include dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and other behaviors. So instead he might state the problem as “in every relationship I start feeling down and hopeless because I expect people will always leave me once they get to know me.” A big difference. Verbing (as it were) psychiatric problems transforms them from inaccessible things to malleable patterns.
Yet another problem with psychiatric nosology is that it parses patients into multiple entities, each seemingly with its own ontological standing. For instance, many patients have seen me for an initial evaluation saying something like, “I’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I’m taking Zoloft for my OCD and Ritalin for my ADD.” This is a wine connoisseur’s model of diagnosis that psychiatry underwrites, one that analyzes patients like glasses of Cabernet. Accordingly, one can imagine a learned diagnostician nibbling canapes while describing a patient who is redolent of Dysthymic Disorder with undertones of Major Depressive Disorder, a soupcon of PTSD, and a distinct aftertaste of borderline pathology. Unfortunately, only whole, integrated people can become well and remain well. A living, breathing patchwork of disorders cannot.
Finally, given the imprimatur of medical authority that psychiatric labels flaunt, people can be tempted to reinforce their deficient self-identities by assuming the pseudo-identities which such labels confer. Such an individual may announce, “ I am a schizophrenic” or I am an “obsessive-compulsive.” Such a statement makes no more sense than “I am a hemorrhoid” or “I am acne vulgaris.” And as noted, you cannot get well if your identity equates solely with a sick aspect of you.
The following case of bipolar disorder (BPD) illustrates the benefits of a homeopathic approach to major psychiatric illness.
Jesse was a 34-year old Asian-American single real estate broker with a history of multiple periods of depression annually that resulted in impaired functioning. There were often no precipitants for these episodes, at which times he ruminated that he could never accomplish the things he wanted, i.e. a good job with good income so that he could eventually be a good provider for a future family. In addition, he reported multiple episodes of hypomania, with irritability, aggressiveness, elation, overspending, excessive physical activity, including workouts at gyms lasting hours at a time. When I initially saw him, he carried a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder and was taking the antipsychotic lurasidone, 80 mg daily. When I asked him what was the worst aspect of his psychiatric symptoms, he cited their effect on his work. He said, “If necessary, I could struggle through my daily life, go to work, but I want to be normal.”
In addition, he reported chronic anxiety and tension. He would get “wound up” at work and find it hard to relax afterwards without smoking marijuana, which he did almost every day. And he suffered for years from nightmares consisting of military battles in which he did not have the proper weapons with which to fight, with resulting fears of imminent death.
He described himself as a hard-working and responsible “go-getter” who was aggressive in his work, reporting with pride that he received an award for the largest earnings the previous month at his firm. “I fight the fact that I have a bipolar disorder. I’m not going to let it get the best of me.”
Additional symptoms included chronic, profuse night sweats; severe, recurring migraine headaches, strongly ameliorated by pressure; habitual restlessness of his legs; chronic fatigue; and urgency for stool during meals.
A further relevant aspect of his history was his pride in his performance as a running back in high school and college football, when he prided himself on being difficult to tackle.
In analyzing his case via the sensation method and Scholten schemas, I perceived a striving for competence in his life’s structures—work, money, eventually family. These structures pertained to issues of security, accumulation of physical and financial mass, i.e. 4th row issues. Therefore he appeared to embody a mineral remedy of the 4th row of the periodic table. In his emphasis on fighting, pushing through, forcing through obstacles to attain security, he represented attributes of the 8th column of the 4th row.
Accordingly, the remedy I chose was Ferrum metallicum for the above systemic reasons. The repertory supported that prescription, with rubrics under that remedy for “Mood: alternating” and “Mood: changeable” plus many rubrics for Sadness; “Delusions, War Being At” and “Dreams: battles”; “Headaches, amel by pressure”; “Rectum, Urging, desire: eating: during”; “Restlessness: lower limbs: legs”; etc.
I prescribed 3 doses within 24 hours of Ferrum metallicum 200C, followed by a daily 12C dose because of the antidoting potential of his daily marijuana.
During the subsequent several weeks and increasingly during the next couple of months, his mood stabilized and remained positive. He felt much calmer and mentally sharper, with increased energy. He stopped marijuana and noticed that his headaches, nocturnal sweating, and nightmares disappeared. He has remained completely well for 13 months on only the single 200C dose and continued daily 12C. Beginning with the twelfth week of improvement, he began to taper and eventually discontinued the lurasidone, and has been off it now about 8 months.
Jesse’s apparent cure illustrates the value of homeopathic prescribing, which matches the unique attributes of the entire person and stimulates self-healing in a manner that respects the individuality of each patient. We homeopaths do not bracket off the signs and symptoms of mental illness from the rest of the person. We do not view illness as a reified abstraction, to be suppressed with superior force; rather, we treat illness as a dysfunctional pattern that characterizes a whole living person. In other words, we address disease not as an isolated noun, a thing, but as a verb, a process, a way of being in the world.
In my 23 years of homeopathic prescribing, I have seen many patients with BPD become well and free themselves from the clutches of psychiatric drugs. In the 41 years that I have practiced psychiatry, for the reasons noted above, I have never seen anyone—not a single person!–with a bipolar diagnosis become truly well through allopathic prescribing alone.
In major mental illness, case-taking can be tricky for many reasons. One is the difficulty of distinguishing common symptoms from individualizing ones. For example, everyone with BPD has mood swings, changes of levels of energy and activity, corresponding changes in interpersonal behavior, and so on–neither helpful in repertorization nor per se in the sensation method. However, I have found that with such patients, if I look for peculiar nuances in the expressions of such common symptoms, I can detect the underlying remedy more easily. For instance, in Jesse’s case, his hypomania was tinged with an aggressive assertiveness, a desire to fight through his symptoms to achieve security. In another cured BPD case, of Nitrogen, a perpetual ungrounded feeling, a spacy expansiveness, a sensation of being stuck in his life and need to escape, and a difficulty separating his own identity from that of others revealed the simillimum. When yet another cured BPD patient developed otherwise classical manic symptoms, she stuttered and became terrified that someone would jump out of the bushes and slit her throat—Stramonium. And then there was the teenager who, when manic, spoke so rapidly that I could not interrupt and instigated jealous fights over the attention ex-boyfriends were paying to other female classmates. Lachesis cured her.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle I have found in treating patients with BPD is their conviction that their condition is incurable so that there is no point in considering homeopathic treatment. I hope that if those of us who treat such patients can publicize our successes, the public will see that curative treatment is possible.