How did you get into homoeopathy?
As a patient. I was ill from work once every 5 years, wrung out. I’d sort of withdraw from the world for a month or more, build myself back up again and then start anew, get a new job usually, and return to the world. I have the “miserable git gene,” as I call it. I come from a family of neurotics and schizophrenics – which is helpful for my practice (I never learnt to take things for granted), but has not been helpful for my own health. I wanted to stop that pattern of illness. Homoeopathy was good. The consultation was interesting; the remedy was Ignatia; that was good too.
I had an Open University work book called “Work Choices”. I never really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I did the exercises about work interests, it had no jobs listed against my hierarchy. On the one side was community development and adult education, which I did throughout my 30s and early 40s; on the other it showed being a GP, which I’d never fancied. The last time I looked at it, I realised the list I’d read as GP continued with acupuncture and homoeopathy. Now, healing, that was interesting. But acupuncture – I didn’t know the culture it grew out of, the time period it was formulated; the language, I didn’t understand. Whereas homoeopathy came from a time period I understood – the European enlightenment, so I could relate to it, the ideas weren’t alien to me – a language I knew a bit of. I found I could study it in Manchester.
What did you do before?
I used to support community groups to get external funding – finance from central/local government, lottery grants, that sort of thing – and by offering them training in constitutions and managing funding, the sort of things they had to do but weren’t that interested in.
Was that sort of work affecting your health?
No not really. I didn’t manage myself in work; it would incrementally build up.
Were you conscientious?
Yes – I but I’m not sure that’s the problem. You could try the rubric Mind Smiling, involuntary smiling when speaking, if you wanted to pin me down then.
Have you tried any other therapy?
I had tried acupuncture and counseling. I grew up in a family that didn’t go to the doctor’s much. Mum was treated with strong psychiatric medication and she had a small frame, so she didn’t tolerate it well; the dosage was too much. It didn’t do much for her state of being. The notion of taking antidepressants was anathema for me.
Was there an underlying fear that that you could end up like your mother?
That’s interesting. I grew up in a family, 5 of us children, where we all knew what each other was up to. Later on, I’d still be able to pick up a phone and say hello to my eldest sister before she had spoken. But it was necessary to step back from that in terms of my mother – I needed to step back for my own protection. My judgment was, it was nature’s law for me to survive because she could have sucked the life out of me.
So what was she like?
Mother could only love one child at a time, Dad said. I was the baby, so naturally as others grew up and they moved away. Eventually our roles seemed to reverse, and I became her primary carer. Dad was living elsewhere.
What was that like for you?
It was a problem when I wanted to move away to be independent and that was problematic because when I did manage to move away Mum got sectioned a number of times [detained under the Mental Health Act]. So it felt like my life was on hold until she released me. At 23, I made a judgment that it couldn’t go on. Between the parent and child it is in the nature of things that the child has to survive. I never meant to say this much…
What do you feel you sacrificed?
Well actually I was always bright. School was one place I enjoyed and thrived. Anything happening at home I could leave it aside.
Can you tell me more about sacrifice? Could you go back in time and say could you have done it another way?
Well that’s the good thing about homoeopathy – that it uses all that, it’s all relevant experience. When I was 18 I took an analgesic for a headache for the first ever time – and it was good. But I could see how GP medicine failed my Mum. And the fact of growing up in a family where knowing/observing what everyone was doing was very relevant.
What was it that you did in way of hobbies and interest?
Well I just used to read. I had this idea that the body was a transport system for my head – I just lived in the head. I mean I wasn’t unsociable; I always hoped to be picked 10th or 11th for the team because people liked me, once you’d got past the people who could play well.
So how are you socially?
I tend to want to operate on a one to one, rather than in a crowd. But I am sociable.
At 23 you are free…
I was aware although I had grown up in poor environment I had a good education- I got a scholarship – so what do you do with the knowledge? You share it.
Were you successful in sharing knowledge? How do you regard that now?
What I can bring is an understanding of principles – I can be clear. I bring a strong sense of building a community; people know that they can bother me and that I am interested in them.
Where did you train?
I trained here about 10 years ago. When I finished I was saying to myself: well what do I really understand? And I realized that what I actually fully understood was quite limited. I was taught homoeopathy as this great cosmic thing but well actually it may be this great cosmic thing but it definitely has these tethers – you have to know what it’s tethered to.
Afterwards what did you do?
Well I did do a course and clinics with Ralf Jeutter. Who had the most influence on me? Some as dogmatic saw him – but he knew about Sam, in a way nobody else I learnt from did. He could quote Sam as an authority.
How do you see Sam?
I see him as one of most experienced homoeopaths of all time. As the one who set the most fundamental principles of homoeopathy. I see him as someone you can have a relationship with, because he has a lot to tell – but he is also grumpy.
Did you see him as a sort of savior, not in a religious way, after all your life experience?
No. What I wanted to learn after the course… I was asking how do I heal personally? What I found in Sam was: he was working out how to heal and had worked out some principles how to heal that stacked up, that made sense to me. I think it’s important not to look at him in a religious way. He is a bloke who knows more, is more experienced and I wanted to learn from him. He is the key influence to me in homoeopathy. I can identify with him because my first degree is in history, so what I am interested in, is the origin of ideas –how the ideas come and how they develop – where do they come from – so you need to know the primary texts.
Would you say you are a researcher?
I’m obsessed with ideas and their development, but no. I would say I am a synthesiser – I pick lots of ideas from different places and I weave them, creating a textile, a warp and weft. The principles are your warp and the weft is what you wrap around the warp to make the pattern and colours.
How do you practice?
I have got all sorts of clients, from builders to people with bipolar disorder. As for my approach – I don’t do any separation – I see it as: there is a body unity that has a pattern in the way that it responds to stressors whatever they are. That unity of expression will be expressed through mental, emotional, physical symptoms – looking critically at the way the symptoms are described uniquely. And one of the things Sam very clearly says, which has been messed about, is that we very often separate out the spirit from the material body, but really they are not separate – we do it to ease our understanding but they are not separate. That separation has been a cause of misunderstanding: rather than saying I am a transport system for the spirit, let’s accept the unity of the body.
So, how do you see homoeopathy and spirituality?
Within just this College, homoeopathy is Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, New Age, traditional…. So the truths about humans and health that homoeopathy has to teach have their own universality, a language that allows for diversity – and unity. So, I say: let that be our public spirituality. I wouldn’t want to spoil it by either being very overt about my own spiritual life, or by tying homoeopathy to a particular spiritual understanding – either might limit homoeopathy or create a barrier to entry for people.
If I have spirituality about the College it’s this. Human enterprises that show all of these – compassionate love, authority and inspiration – that’s the standard we should aim for.
I believe you were responsible for rescuing the college from closure
Yes, I was involved in setting up the new organisation, as a social enterprise. Everybody’s a shareholder: students, staff. The design was from my own head – it was also the sort of organization I was more familiar with.
So is this where you come up with building the community
Well, the whole concept of this being a college of adult students. If we are adults then we have existing wisdom to share -so adults should be involved rather than it be under the sole ownership and influence of a single individual. Any students having problem or with ideas – they can grab me or present it at tutorials at weekends.
So what is your intent?
Building a community embracing homoeopathic students to homoeopaths. I suppose it is an extended family and that’s how it is managed; people fall out but when chips are down people help each other out. We try to advertise CPD as wide as possible to allow others to attend so we are open to others. Also for example, we don’t have to tell any year group to be mutually supportive, they just do it; they’re incredibly good and conscientious about it.
Manu: It was similar at the Lakes. Before starting at the lakes, I came for an open day before it was a co-op. It had a classroom feel, academic. But when I came last year for Jackie McTaggert’s session after you had settled in it had a very good feel and I was comfortable with doing the 4th year –all credit to you and the Board.
To keep going. We are now the only College registered with the Society of Homeopaths north of Stroud, Carmarthen and Norwich. We have survived where many others have closed partly due to the structure. Also we have clear intentions and are adaptive. [If you want to know more about this, see the article about the College] In the current economic climate, we need to start looking at what and how we deliver through a variety of locations and directly through the web. Here’s the problem: from Sam we know homoeopathy is about insight discernment awareness and knowledge. It’s easy to deliver knowledge via the Internet, the rest is trickier.
What are the threats to the school?
Recruitment has always been unpredictable. Will [a former employee] used to say that we never knew if we could run the course until the middle of September; we have brought that forward so it is more predictable. When I was studying there were 38 started and 25% dropped out. Now drop out is much lower, but the numbers studying in the UK is quite low. When I was learning people people turned up to Open Day maybe just out of marginal interest; now when they turn up they do have a clear intent to study homoeopathy. People seem to have to be more committed before they get here. It’s a bigger step culturally. The idea behind our pain clinic initiative was to find a way of entry into homoeopathy that wasn’t a big step, to start building the conveyer belt. I mean, we expect a person to talk to a stranger for up to 2 hours with no idea what to expect and what they have signed up for– walking into it blind. The pain clinic was to get less of a sense of risk, so they get a feel for homoeopathy.
Do you ever ask, “why I am bothering?” – how does it affect your energy?
I feel great when I am here. But in between there can be pettiness – it gets me because there isn’t any power to grab. And there’s tribalism. Homoeopathy has to allow diversity – the cultural frame of reference should be diverse: female homoeopaths may be different to male, Muslim homoeopaths to hippie; not everybody gets that.
How do you see the future of homoeopathy?
To me, it is about having to make connections visible to others’ fields. Look at antibiotic resistance – homoeopathy is a possible alternative or part of solution but homoeopathy isn’t in the discussion. We need dialogue with other professions to find common ground rather than points of difference.
The major crisis in the profession in the UK is in the confidence of its membership. So we write articles about my wonderful case, my wonderful proving but don’t build evidence. Too much is anecdotal and there is little self-criticism. I remember reading a survey article on prescribing. Clearly somebody was routinely prescribing Carcinosin; it wasn’t raised as a concern, it wasn’t even raised. We should have the confidence to say we can get it wrong, and apply rigour to the work we do. All too often, we hide behind the language of esotericism; I can’t help wondering if this is because we’re scared of feeling exposed by using plain English.
People practicing homoeopathy need to know and understand what it is. Its fine if people do homoeopathy with something else, but they need to be clear about what homoeopathy is. That’s where the principles come in. When I qualified it wasn’t clear to me – it was blurred. People were happy to teach homoeopathy as if it was psychotherapy, but they are distinct. By all means train in psychotherapy but keep it different, don’t confuse the two; and don’t practice homoeopathy as psychotherapy on the cheap.
We need to be clearer in communicating, and braver. Most of all we have to want to communicate with the public outside of the homoeopathy ghetto, and be willing to be braver. It’s not easy.