ED: For this month’s edition we needed to find somebody who represents what happens out there in the veterinary world. After a few enquiries, the choice fell on Peter Gregory.
Peter is such a good talker that when I asked him to introduce himself, he nearly finished his Hot seat interview all by himself. I still managed to get a few questions in.
Hi Peter. Welcome in this Ezine. More than 20,000 pairs of ears are listening to find out more about veterinary homeopathy, but first let us know who you are.
PG: After qualifying as a vet I spent a few years in mixed practice before emigrating to Australia. The place I arrived at was a small town on the tropical coast of Queensland. Fleas were a constant challenge, but even without them we had an ‘allergy season’ otherwise known as the Depomedrol season, when the drug wholesalers would offer bulk buys on long-acting corticosteroid injections.
My own dog, ‘Big Ears’, whom I had brought with me from the UK, went down with atopy in the second summer there and for the next 6 years received the standard steroid jabs whenever I could no longer stand the constant scratching. By the time I was ready to return to UK he was showing intermittent Cushingoid symptoms and had a vertebra which was collapsing as a result of generalised osteoporosis.
By this time I had also started to think more deeply about life, the Universe and everything, and had begun to study Buddhism and meditation. I began to question the values I saw around me and to return to a more respectful way of dealing with my patients. This led me to believe there must be a gentler and more effective way of dealing, not only with skin disease, but with other medical conditions of my patients. This questioning and searching continued during a six month sojourn in SE Asia whilst Big Ears had returned to England and six months quarantine.
By the time I returned to UK, Big Ears had improved all round. But not long after release from kennels, the skin problem started up again. Meanwhile, I had seen an advert for a day introductory course in homeopathy run by Chris Day and a doctor, Jeremy Swayne, in Glastonbury. I can’t remember much at all about the content of the day’s presentations, but the whole concept of homeopathy, the possibilities it held, and the philosophy behind it must have enamoured me to it, as I found myself enthused in a way I had long since forgotten, when it came to veterinary medicine.
On my first long term locum I was fortunate enough to encounter an open-minded principal; moreover the first serious case on which I tried homeopathy produced an almost miraculous response; from thereon I was hooked.
Big Ears was eventually cured of his atopy and his case is trotted out to every first year I teach as a textbook Arsenicum album constitution. From then onwards my ambition became to gain a qualification in homeopathy and return to Australia and develop it there.
However, some years later I found myself as one of the first few VetMFHoms, but living once again in UK. The instruction I received at the Faculty had been groundbreaking in its time, but I felt that I could teach with more enthusiasm than most of my lecturers, and I was not convinced that some had as much experience as they seemed to be claiming. I felt that I could teach from a more experiential viewpoint, being honest about the difficulties that homeopathy inevitably threw in one’s way, but opening minds to the very different model of health and disease which homeopathy espouses.
I probably pestered Chris into allowing me to teach some sessions at the Faculty, but when the veterinary course was moved to the HPTG in Oxford, he gave me the opportunity of being one of the three core veterinary teachers. I remember saying to him that I felt I might not have enough experience, but he replied that enthusiasm was just as important, and I set about attempting to make my sessions interesting and mind stretching. The ethos of the HPTG was perfect for this: self development was an integral part of the course, and remains so today, and I received enormous support in my own personal journey at the time.
Teaching homeopathy has now become my major passion. I derive enormous satisfaction in watching the awareness grow in students, as they move from the orthodox way of thinking into which they were conditioned at University, towards an awareness of the energetic nature of sentient beings and of the infinite possibilities which that awareness holds.
ED: Peter, you clearly expressed in this introduction your passion for the energetic approach to medicine. How do you teach/prepare your pupils to become homeopaths in our world, overshadowed by conventional science/medicine?
PG: The transition from, on the one hand, thinking and perceiving health and disease within the paradigm we are taught at veterinary school, to understanding the energetic nature of things implicit in homeopathy, is by nature a gradual one.
It is true that some students come to a course in homeopathy having already taken a step towards such an understanding, but others come simply searching for a more effective way of treating their patients, or at least seeking an additional therapeutic modality, and they are unprepared for the paradigm shift with which they are ultimately presented. However, I think there are two separate issues to be addressed.
Firstly it may be necessary to increase the students’ awareness of the effects and shortcomings of conventional medicine. As much as anything this involves creating an atmosphere of safety, for the student themselves to challenge the orthodoxy with which they have been imbued. Such issues as the side effects of NSAIDs and the effects of over-vaccination of animals are not so much homeopathic issues as issues for the profession generally, but if they did not exist, there would be less of a need for alternative strategies such as homeopathy.
Secondly there is a need to facilitate the understanding of the concepts of health and disease inherent in the philosophy of homeopathy. However, there is an intuitive truth in these ideas which resonates with the experiences of most veterinarians.
My approach has always been to attempt to encourage and support the student on a path of self-discovery, rather than to preach dogma. This involves creating a space for questioning, for free thinking and, most of all, for dialogue. The concepts which homeopathy presents are quite logical, and can be borne out by critical evaluation of the experiences which any veterinarian encounters daily in general practice.
Beyond this, though, it seems we all need some kind of structure within which to organise our way of working, so it is necessary to provide the student with a working model which gives some guidelines of how to approach such a novel form of therapy.
Initially some case histories and a look at some of the research which has been performed, is also helpful in crossing the boundary of material to energetic, and in overcoming the scepticism which the dreaded Avogadro problem may have instilled.
All along, however, I believe it is possible to encourage the student to learn by experience and questioning rather than expecting the blind acceptance of dogma.
My experience, is that it takes some time before the understanding of what homeopathy is all about truly takes root. I often notice a distinct change in the perception of the student around half way through a 3 year course, when it becomes apparent that they have taken the step into truly embracing homeopathy and all it entails. Essentially this is the step from perceiving the material, into perceiving the energetic, and dare I say spiritual.
I should add at this point that the HPTG, the organisation of which I am partner and which was responsible for allowing me the opportunity to teach, has always had what I call its ‘hidden agenda’, in that we have involved students in an element of discovery of self as well as by self.
To my mind one of the great strengths of homeopathy is that it encourages its practitioners to develop personally as well as professionally, but to someone relatively new to these concepts, this aspect of it can be quite unnerving. I believe it is one of the main reasons for its rejection by many vets, as it requires a critical evaluation of one’s purpose in life and the acceptance of the energetic phenomena which make up the reality of which we are a part.
This metaphorical removal of the solid foundation underpinning our experience can be frightening and for this reason I believe we are obliged as teachers to provide some personal support in this area, preferably in the form of a tutorial group or similar. The very minimum is e-mail contact.
So, getting back to the question, I think the process of developing an acceptance and understanding of the energetic reality of life is a gradual one, but one which most students are prepared to accept. It is also a process which will proceed at a rate which depends on the individual. Part of the challenge is to assess what stage of the journey each student has reached, and to encourage the next step.
ED: Your students are blessed to receive such a sound basis that will allow them to discover the best in themselves. I am sure they will soon be ready for the next step: learning to practise homeopathy successfully.
The successful practice of homeopathy is a quest many homeopaths pursue for the whole of their career. Can you tell us how you prepare your students to become successful homeopaths?
PG: I think the term ‘successful’ requires some qualification. ‘Success’ is a very personal matter and one person’s view of success may not agree with another’s view. At a very basic level ‘success’ may mean curing our patients, or at least improving their state of health, but it may be necessary to leave behind the narrow criteria with which we are provided in our training.
Perhaps the best example of this is a patient with cancer; conventional success is mainly judged by the appearance and size of the tumour, independent of the quality of life of the patient. In homeopathy it is the other way round: I would consider it a successful treatment if the patient feels better, if the appetite is improved, or the animal’s level of energy is increased, despite the tumour ulcerating or increasing in size.
Similarly most of us have had the experience of treating a cat with renal failure whose prognosis has been pronounced as hopeless on the basis of its blood parameters. Homeopathic treatment results in an improvement in every clinical sign and in the general demeanour, and the patient survives in this state, sometimes for years, but the blood parameters remain unchanged, or even worsen over this time. Most animal owners are perfectly happy with this, though our professional colleagues may have difficulty in accepting this philosophy.
I would add, too, that I have no compunction in teaching my students that ‘palliation is OK’. There are many patients who for a number of reasons are incurable. In these cases homeopathy can nevertheless be of immense value and I have no hesitation in using whatever remedies are necessary to perpetuate the animal’s state of well-being.
Naturally, one aspires to increase the proportion of successful outcomes in one’s patients, and this is an ongoing process. I have always urged students to view the ‘undergraduate’ course as a springboard to an ever greater understanding of homeopathy, and I therefore encourage them to attend virtually any homeopathic seminar for which they can find the resources.
As I have said before, I do not believe there is any place for dogma in this area, and I would encourage students to study something like homotoxicology just as much as I would to travel to Bombay, to learn from Sankaran. Likewise, I and my fellow tutors try to equip students with as many tools as possible so that their prescribing can be flexible. They therefore learn about the use of mother tinctures in cardiac patients and organ therapy for the liver, and the use of bowel nosodes and miasmatic theory, as well as the classical approach based on single doses prescribed on totality or constitution. They are also introduced to Scholten’s view of the periodic table and Sankaran’s approach based on Kingdoms and miasms.
It seems to me that the concept of individuality is vital in homeopathy and I believe there is a place for all these approaches in any individual patient. Whilst sometimes it may not be clear how a prescription technique for humans might be valid in the treatment of animals, I believe the more we understand homeopathy and its role in the universe the better we are able to apply it for the benefit of our patients, whatever their species. This philosophy I share with my students.
Coming back to the issue of success in practice, another way of judging it is to look at the attitude of one’s clients and how readily they will return. Whilst the issue which brings them to the homeopath is usually the health of their animal, there may be all sorts of other issues with which they need support.
Modern conventional practice leaves little time for the interaction between vet and patient, and sometimes even less for that between vet and client. It can therefore be of immense value for the client to be able to ask the questions which they didn’t have the opportunity to ask their regular vet. They may also need to have their own feelings or suspicions validated; for instance they may have strong suspicions as to the cause of the problem facing their pet – they may have noticed a correlation between the symptoms and the administration of a vaccine, or with a stressful situation within the home. These suggestions may have been dismissed by their conventional vet, and it can be an enormous relief to have these feelings taken seriously.
This is part of what I call the ‘homeopathic experience’ and I consider it to be of enormous importance; what we offer as homeopaths goes far beyond simply ‘fixing the animal’. In this context I believe we are uniquely placed to recognise the psychological issues which surround pets and their illness. For instance, when we recognise a correlation between the patient’s remedy state and that of their owner, this means something to us as homeopaths; it goes far beyond the more conventional attitude that ‘the owner is neurotic and is making the dog sick’.
The psychodynamics of the homeopathic consultation is fascinating, even more so when one introduces an animal to the energetic field, and an understanding of this is of benefit to client, patient and vet alike. This ‘homeopathic experience’ is one which is valued greatly by clients, and it provides an atmosphere within which healing is fostered. I am often asked by students how I manage to keep my clients ‘on board’ for so long – I sometimes show cases where it has taken months before the remedies have started to have some effect. I show these cases because I want the students to understand that while homeopathy is generally immensely powerful, at times it can be frustrating and disappointing; and I want them to understand that when they do not get an instant cure, it is not necessarily ‘their fault’. Getting the client to keep coming back often depends on this ‘homeopathic experience’. An essential part of it is also demonstrating empathy with the client.
I should add that where I work with Tim Couzens at the Holistic Veterinary Medicine Centre, this ‘experience’ starts as the patient and client walk through the door, and frequently involves tea and cake!
Finally, I think being successful depends a great deal on one’s perception of one’s self. Homeopathy has a knack of ‘pushing our buttons’ and bringing up those issues to which we are most sensitive. Lack of self-worth affects us all in some way or another – how we deal with it depends largely on our homeopathic constitution – and I spend a lot of time in postgraduate supervision groups dealing with this and other such issues.
In my opinion some kind of postgraduate supervision is vital, and I have spent considerable time attempting to acquire a modicum of skill in this field, going beyond the level of simply ‘hunting the remedy’ and dealing with psychodynamics and group process. Such work does not suit everyone but I feel it is important for support of this kind to be available, and I strongly believe that the tutor’s responsibilities do not end when the student leaves the seminar room.
So ‘A Recipe for Success’:
1. Take Basic ingredients:
Classical homeopathic philosophy (Hahnemann, Kent etc.)
Materia medica – Several types, from American stables (Boericke) to Greek essences (Vithoulkas) and exotic spices such as Sankaran.
Mix together till well absorbed
2. Learn to use utensils (e.g. Repertory) to apply to the best of one’s ability
Add – A little understanding of oneself.
Bake in the hot oven of experience
Practise at every opportunity.
Serve up at supervision.
If not perfect don’t worry – your best is good enough!
P.S. According to Scholten, best taken with a pinch of salt.
ED: Peter, I would suggest that all readers start baking this fantastic recipe you propose. Your answer to a previous question also answered a few other questions I wanted to put to you. I am sure it will inspire all students of homeopathy, which we all are.
Because of the pertinence of your responses, there is one more subject I want to touch on. Since only veterinary surgeons can prescribe for animals (in the UK), many of us veterinary homeopaths have practiced or still are practicing conventional medicine.
Is it possible to combine the two medical approaches? If so how would you combine the two?
PG: In my previous answer I may not have emphasised sufficiently the need for a good grounding in the basics. Many of the great homeopaths in the past, Blackie and MacLeod as examples, have been credited with the power of intuition, but it has not always been emphasised that they were working from a basis of an enormously wide and deep knowledge of material medica, gained by a lot of hard work, both in pure study and in the experience of practice with a large number of patients over many years.
For most of us, to reach this level of expertise and confidence is the goal, but it takes time and it takes practice. In the meantime we can only do our best and apply ourselves to the challenge.
In learning to practice veterinary medicine we start with a grounding in the basics of anatomy and physiology and progress towards pathology, medicine and therapeutics, taking in along the way the study of the organisms which, we are taught, are responsible for disease. Almost as a separate entity we learn to perform surgery.
I believe this distinction is valid for whatever therapy we choose, though with homeopathy there may be conditions which potentially yield to medical intervention where orthodoxy would suggest we reach immediately for the scalpel, and homeopathy may often represent an option which can be exercised after conventional medicine has failed but before resorting to surgery.
I am convinced that it is in general practice, that homeopathy offers its greatest potential: I spent several years incorporating homeopathy into my work in orthodox practice and if I found myself unable to use homeopathy, in a short term locum position for instance, it felt like I had one hand tied behind my back. And yet there are times when orthodox medicine can be essential and life saving.
I am still unsure just how much conventional medicine interferes in the action of a homeopathic medicine; and sometimes the different forms of medicine seem to work synergistically. For instance I have found often a patient will respond to an antibiotic after homeopathy, whereas beforehand it was refractory. Similarly I have occasionally resorted to corticosteroids in a particularly difficult pruritic skin disease, and then gone on to ‘pick up the pieces’ afterwards.
As usual I think the issue is one of awareness- we just need to be aware of the consequences and the effects of the conventional drugs at our disposal, and use them with care. There may be times when we are grateful of their existence and recognising where they are appropriate is a skill which again comes with experience.
In referral practice I am constantly presented with patients who are suffering from complex chronic disease states, due to the suppressive or aggravating effect of the conventional medication they have received. An appreciation of the disease process which homeopathy affords us would have prevented such a dire state of affairs and I really cannot overemphasise the value of such an understanding, no matter which form of medicine is involved.
It seems to me that at present veterinary medicine is upside down – we should be using the safer (and I would say more effective) therapy which is homeopathy as first line treatment, then ‘mopping up’ with the more toxic conventional medicine when necessary.
One of the great problems we face however, is that the profession has worked itself into the situation where it depends on the income from annual vaccinations and the sale of commercial pet foods. Add to this the profit made from selling orthodox medicines and the problem is magnified. In this atmosphere it is not easy to espouse homeopathic philosophy and a major change has to be wrought in the attitudes not only of veterinarians, but also in the members of the public who are seeking the treatment.
This is something which can only happen over time, and the most important change is in attaching more value to the conceptual: i.e. the consultation and expertise of the veterinarian and less to the material: i.e. the medicines prescribed. However, I believe that our clients are far more prepared for this than the profession is ready to accept, and that therein lies the road to success for the next generation of veterinarians.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that annual vaccinations can be replaced with simple health checks and commercial foods can be replaced with the ingredients of a raw food diet. My experience in practice tells me that clients really do put a value on a veterinarian’s time, especially when that time is spent in an atmosphere of understanding and compassion.
You may notice that I have made no mention of the treatment of animals by non-veterinarians. This is because I believe that the training and expertise of the veterinarian equips them to best care for the animal patient. To my mind the depth of knowledge and understanding which has taken so many years to acquire makes it essential that this is the first stage in the treatment of any animal. Once that initial assessment has been made I would prefer homeopathy to be the treatment of choice, and I have no problem whatsoever in that treatment being provided by a non-veterinarian, provided the patient remains under the care of a veterinarian. However the ideal is for the veterinarian himself to be versed in the art of homeopathy and it is my aim that as many of my professional colleagues should be qualified in the therapy as possible.
So I do believe that the future of homeopathy lies in being integrated into veterinary practice rather than on the fringes of it, as at present. I hope that before long, ‘homeopathic referral practices’ such as mine will not be needed, and that a patient presented to a veterinary surgery will receive whichever therapeutic medicine is best suited to it as an individual. This would be a veterinary health care system which would truly serve client and patient as never before. We shall see – it takes enormous courage to step out of comfortable orthodoxy and into the uncertain realm of free thought, and those who do so face enormous challenges; no wonder Hahnemann prefaced the Organon with the words ‘Aude sapere’: Dare to be wise.
ED: Thank you for this interview, Peter, I am sure it will inspire many. I especially liked your view on the way conventional medicine and homeopathic medicine can be ‘mixed’ for the best of the patient.
It has been a pleasure to have you in the veterinary edition of the E-zine.
Together with John Saxon, Peter has published a book titled: ‘A Textbook of Veterinary Homeopathy’. ISBN: 0906584574 (Beaconsfield Homoeopathic library)