Dr. Bob Leckridge works as a homeopathic physician at Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital. He is the author of “Homeopathy in Primary Care” and a recent work “Be the Flow“. He has an active blog where daily he displays his photographs and expresses his special philosophy of life.
AS: How did you first get involved in homeopathy? Did that require a major shift in philosophy?
BL: I first expressed a desire to be a doctor when I was 3 years old. The desire never went away. What idea did I have of a doctor? The family doctor. Our own family doctor was a kindly, soft spoken, silver haired man who came to the house when my little sister was born and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. That was when I was 3. So, I became the family doctor, and within a year, felt some dissatisfaction. I sat down one Monday evening and reviewed the case notes of the people I’d seen that day. I’d prescribed antibiotics, antihypertensives, antidepressants, anti-inflammatories…..there was a well developed theme going on here! What was it with all the anti’s? Who had I helped to be healed today? Nobody. Then it dawned on me that throughout my 6 years at Edinburgh University and 4 years of postgraduate training, there’d be no mention of “health”. It was all about disease. The next day I received an unrequested flyer for a course in Glasgow “Homeopathy for GPs” and it said something about healing. I’d never even heard the word “homeopathy” but something about this flyer caught my attention so I signed up.
The course was great and allowed a family doctor to start using homeopathy for simple, self-limiting, acute conditions very quickly. With hindsight, I see this was using homeopathy pretty much the same way as using drugs – “a pill for every ill” – but it gave me the experience of seeing patients make complete recoveries quickly, in situations where I didn’t have any drugs which would do the same thing. I’m thinking of problems like infant colic, acute sickness and diarrhoea, anticipation anxiety, sports injuries, and so on. That was a surprise. The second surprise was that patients “owned up” to using homeopathy, but they’d kept it secret because they thought I’d disapprove. The third surprise was that news spread quickly and before long there were queues of patients directly requesting homeopathic treatment. That’s what drove me to learn it properly.
Eventually, I left General Practice and started working at Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital full-time in 1995. I’ve been here ever since. Did it require a major shift in philosophy? Goodness! I’m sure we all develop and change our understanding of life as we live a life, and for sure my thoughts about health, disease and healing are very different now, from what they were as an undergraduate medical student. But here’s what the main difference is. It strikes me that biomedicine intends to impact on disease, and, in so doing, the doctor’s hope is to give the patient a better experience of health. Biomedicine is good at that. However, health isn’t actually addressed directly and the biomedical doctor doesn’t use interventions which are designed to directly improve health. Homeopathy, on the other hand, intends to impact on health, and, in so doing, the doctor’s hope is to reduce the impact or presence of the disease.
Homeopathy does not directly affect disease. Hahnemann said this in his own way with his theory of the Vital Force. I think that’s the essence of the philosophical shift – I’m now a doctor who comes to work every day hoping to help people gain greater health, not one who comes to work every day trying to manage or control disease.
AS: That’s a pretty big shift in paradigm, and obviously more satisfying. Today you are one of the rare homeopaths working in a western homeopathic hospital. How does it feel to be working around other homeopaths in that environment?
BL: I think it’s a great privilege actually. We are all different, and we all have our own ways of engaging with patients, and understanding them. There are also so many different ways of practicing homeopathy as a therapy. I think that’s great. I’m a real believer in the broad church approach to homeopathy. I don’t believe there’s only one way to do it, and I’m afraid I’m pretty skeptical of those who claim to have found either the one, true way, or the way which is better than everybody else’s.
It’s great to have the strong relationships at work too. Of course, no organisation is all plain sailing, and there will always be relationship issues which arise within the working environment, but those challenges can be good for us if we can learn from them. I really appreciate that within our service there are a number of professionals, all with different skills. Some can practice acupuncture, some Mindfulness Meditation, some massage techniques, and so on. We shouldn’t expect that one size will ever fit all, so it’s really wonderful to have a range of possible therapeutic inputs which all share an explicit focus on healing and holism.
AS : With staff having all those different skills, Glasgow Homoeopathic Hospital sounds like a genuine healing environment. Can you tell us something about the hospital and its ambience?
BL : There’s been a Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital for over a hundred years and when the National Health Service was created, the hospital which at that time was an old building at 1000 Great Western Road, was taken over by that new organisation. However, back in the 1930’s, supporters of the hospital raised funds to build a new one, and that £300,000 grew over the years to a figure of £2 Million. So, back at the turn of the century, an agreement was reached to use this money to build a new hospital and sell the old one. A design competition was run and the brief was to build a place of healing. The winning design proposed a cloister with a garden in the middle. Unfortunately there was only enough money to build two of the four sides of the cloister but the L-shaped building we ended up with is a beautiful place to work.
There are many elements which make it beautiful, including the extensive use of natural materials and liberal use of natural light sources, but I think what makes it so successful is the garden. We have a wonderful garden with glorious plants budding and blossoming at different times of the year, wandering, winding pathways, and little hidden places to sit and be private. All of the clinical areas – the consulting rooms, the wards and the physiotherapy room – have one whole wall which is a sliding glass door with immediate access over wooden decking into the garden itself.
Outside my own office, there is a wren who builds her nest every year, and there’s a fox who frequently comes to have an afternoon nap right outside my door. The hospital has five consulting rooms, three single and one four bedded room as an inpatient facility, group spaces and a physiotherapy department. We are in the grounds of Gartnavel Hospital, one of the main general hospitals in Glasgow and we therefore have access to the full range of services and specialists our patients might require.
AS: That presents an image of a beautiful health retreat. In a typical allopathic hospital in the U.S., patients lie in bed under fluorescent lights. They are wakened constantly for trivial reasons and end up sleep deprived. No one listens to them, because the staff’s listening skills are primitive and there’s the implicit assumption that if you are sick and in a hospital bed, your opinion is worthless. It’s designed to make people feel powerless. How does the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital compare on those issues?
BL: Our hospital has no fluorescent lights. All lighting is natural daylight spectrum bulbs in “uplights” sending the light upwards to the ceiling. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to sleep in an institution – who’d really want to ever be in a hospital? But I do think people sleep better in our place than they do in most hospitals. The entire ethos of the service is “integrative”, as we intend to stimulate self-healing by empowering our patients. Everyone is treated as an individual and everyone has a highly individualised treatment plan, tailored to their needs and characteristics. When it comes to listening skills, we excel! A recent survey across Glasgow hospitals showed we obtained 100% patient satisfaction (never been achieved by any other unit in Glasgow) and being listened to and treated as an individual were two of the highest rated, commonest items of feedback.
AS: That’s an impressive record! Good listening also helps to get the patient’s story right. How important is that story in the practice of medicine?
BL: Alan, I think it’s the core of all good practice. I was taught to make a diagnosis on the basis of a good “history” (which means to allow the patient to tell their story in their own words)….and then to do whatever clinical examination and tests were necessary to distinguish one diagnosis from another . That’s been lost in
medicine. Now doctors start with tests and listen later (if ever!) What I really love about the homeopathic method is that it can’t be practised without hearing the person’s full story first. And then, it’s the ONLY form of medicine where the treatment is giving the patient a healing story. That’s what these remedies are.
The materia medic is full of these amazing and unique stories, the essences of which are imprinted onto our medicines. So I think the homeopathic method is successful for two reasons. Firstly, because the process of enabling someone to tell their story is empowering and increases their awareness of their lives, in fact of
their very selves. And secondly, we actually give them the matching story in the remedy. I look forward to every Monday because the week is going to be full of people telling me the most amazing, most unique stories I’ll ever hear. What a privilege !
AS: I like the way you put it, as “giving the patient a healing story”, which sounds almost shamanic. What sort of patients / illnesses end up as inpatients at the hospital?
BL : The inpatient service has changed over the years partly reflecting the interests of the doctors in charge. At one time most of the inpatients would be people with arthritic conditions. More recent years saw a shift towards more people with severe degenerative neurological problems. Essentially the ward has been for people with serious chronic problems, often chronic painful conditions. We had a good think about the purpose of the ward last year and now we’re clearly focused on two situations – we bring people in for a full, holistic, integrative assessment when we don’t think we can gain a full enough understanding of them on an outpatient basis. That admission should enable us to create an individualised treatment plan. The other situation is where the patient is stuck – for whatever reasons – and we bring them in to try and unstick them! By that I mean we try to break the self-maintaining, or situationally stuck cycles of distress and illness.
We’re not hung up on particular diagnoses – of either the body or the mind (a false duality in our opinion!) – more focussed on understanding, empowering and hoping to relieve suffering by promoting healing.
AS: Helping people become unstuck says it all. Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital seems an oasis of healing, but it’s quite rare. The allopathic model is still embraced by most doctors, even though the drugs kill 197,000 people a year in the EU (EU Commission – 2008). Do you see any way that homeopathy can find more acceptance?
BL: In response to the question – I wish I knew the answer to that! But, as it so often seems once we address the reality of something, it’s not simple and can’t be reduced to a single action or statement.
I think there are two issues I’d like to highlight which might be part of a potential answer to this. Firstly, homeopathy doesn’t treat disease. It never did. Hahnemann talked about treating the “vital force” and even though we’ve never found such an entity (and I don’t think ever will) I do think the concept was spot on. What homeopathy does is stimulate and support the natural capacity to self-heal. Drugs don’t do that. There isn’t a single drug on the market which is either intended to stimulate self-healing, or does actually do that. At best, drugs do what the drug companies say they do – reduce blood pressure, kill bacteria etc. In other words, they treat disease. In treating disease, the unexpressed (and I suspect unconscious) hope is that the person’s self-regulating, self-healing, self-repairing mechanisms will do what they are designed to do and make the person well again. Homeopathy, in contrast, seeks to do this latter job, and we hope, as homeopaths, that disease will be modified through this action. That’s why the limits of homeopathy are the limits of the human capacity to heal (even though we often don’t know what those limits are going to be).
The second issue I’d like to highlight is the larger, you might say, cultural battle. We live in a world of increasing commodification and commercialisation of life. Life is reduced to materialism, and a particular train of scientific thought – scientism – which promotes the idea that all human problems can be solved using this reductionist, materialist approach. The trouble with this is that human beings are devalued, and increasingly we see this around the world. Homeopathy, as part of many approaches which value the person over the object, can contribute to turning this around.
So, that’s my answer at this point – to help people understand that homeopathy doesn’t directly treat disease, and allopathy doesn’t directly increase health; and to join with others in demanding that we increase empathy, compassion and the centrality of the whole human being in the world, over an emphasis on parts, objects, and data.
AS: That sort of change would require raised consciousness, and also courage. Can either of those be facilitated by a homeopathic remedy?
BL: You know, I think the original idea of homeopathy was to (as Hahnemann said in para 9 of the Organon) enable “our indwelling rational spirit” to be able to “avail itself of this living, healthy instrument for the higher purposes of our existence”. Strikes me that both raised consciousness and courage would be part of such an outcome! So, yes, I do believe a well chosen constitutional remedy has the capacity to stimulate not just self-repair, self-regulation and self-healing, but that we can begin to see the true flourishing of individual human spirits. Maybe in this adverse climate for homeopathy, we homeopaths should ALL be taking a dose of our constitutional remedy.
AS: I’ll drink to that. Here’s hoping our remedies will help people live as heroes, instead of zombies….which touches on the theme of your blog. You’ve also just written a book called “Be the Flow”. Can you tell us something about it?
BL: Well, the Be The Flow story is an unusual one. I’m sure the ideas of flow, of constant dynamic change, of the interconnectedness of everything and of energy medicine, have floated around in my brain for quite some time, but I had a really unusual experience overnight on a flight from France to Japan this year. You can read the details online here – (look at the section called Blog). The result is a text entitled “Be The Flow” which describes the three rivers of energy, time and consciousness, which flow together to create us, and our experiences in the world. It explains how by becoming aware of these flows, we can learn to work with them, and, yes, in so doing, choose to not longer take the autopilot, “zombie”, way through life, but instead to become the authors, and “heroes”, of our own stories.
I’m a keen photographer and I’ve got a lot of images of water in its various stages of the water cycle – clouds, rain, waterfalls, rivers, the sea and the waves – so I collected some of the absolute best together and created a really beautiful hardbound high print and paper quality version of “Be The Flow”. You can get a preview here – http://www.blurb.com/books/2279764 (where you can also order your own copy).
But I’ve also produced an inexpensive Kindle version with a small selection of the photos, and all the original text. You can find that on amazon – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005C1MY1U
I’m really excited about this, and I would love to hear from anyone about their own experiences of flow.
When you’re healthy, you flow. When you’re unwell, you tend to experience getting stuck, or getting lost. These are distinct patterns of the flow of energy, time and consciousness. What do you think? Isn’t releasing people from the stuckness, and integrating what’s become disintegrated, key to what we’re trying to do as homeopaths? I’m sharing these ideas with all my patients these days, and it seems it instantly makes sense to them and gets us both on the same page as we work towards true healing.
AS: You’re book is clearly a mind-expanding experience, something we’re all in need of. Thank you for sharing with us today!
Visit Dr. Leckridge at his blog: http://heroesnotzombies.wordpress.com/about/