“Well…what’s the remedy?” It was January of 2008, and I’d just finished interviewing the client for my first supervised case. My supervisor sat across from me, waiting for an answer. What the…!? Apparently, this was not a rhetorical question.
I started to panic. A remedy choice should require days of research, supreme effort, the gods of homeopathy placated and ritual sacrifices made. Pick a remedy right away? Ridiculous, impossible, unfair! My supervisor clearly thought it a perfectly reasonable request.
What to do? I could run – leave the room, leave the country, head back to Canada. He’d never find me there. Or I could take a stab at it and go for the remedy that had come to me over and over during the interview.
“I think it’s a case of Naja.” I managed to blurt out.
“Most obvious case of Naja I’ve ever seen,” said my supervisor, as he turned and walked out of the room without further comment, leaving me to ponder. Was this beginner’s luck, or did I actually know something about homeopathy?
Three and a half years later I no longer panic at the thought of taking a case by myself. I’m more confident in both my case taking and analysis, and I’m becoming increasingly more comfortable with case management. I look forward to each new case and enjoy the relationships I’ve built with my clients. When someone asks me, “So what do you do?” I can look them in the eye and say, “I’m a homeopath”.
So how did I manage the transition from learning to doing? Transitions are times fraught with danger and possibility, in which growth can happen or chaos ensue, opportunities recognized and seized, or missed completely; a time filled with relief and dread. A bridge must be built between graduation and practice and, as with any project, the right tools are required for the job.
TOOL #1: A SOLID FOUNDATION. You must have a comprehensive homeopathic education and a serious work ethic. Luck and intuition are fickle, but technique and knowledge are forever. Nothing can replace the skills acquired through good teaching and disciplined independent study.
I was lucky enough to have a text book example of Naja present itself to me for my very first case. But I knew how to recognize it for what it was because I had been well taught, and had spent many hours every month doing my homework. And so, as a result of my studies in classical homeopathy at the New York School of Homeopathy, I was able to recognize first the expression of the animal kingdom and then the snake sub-kingdom as revealed by the client. With the help of the keynote symptoms I was able to see which snake remedy was specifically needed. I might also have been able to work the case out using rubrics and materia medica, but not without understanding the kingdom and grouping first. I was able to confirm my initial “guess” by doing just that as I formally analyzed and wrote up the case later in the week. However, if I had used the repertory alone, the analysis may have shown a plant or a mineral remedy instead. That is why it is so helpful to look at kingdom and groupings first.
TOOL #2: COURAGE. Yes, you will have confidence issues, you will have cases that don’t go well, and you will (in spite of best intentions and all your hard work) choose the wrong remedy sometimes. But you must find the courage to begin to apply all that knowledge you’ve been amassing and put into practice those interview techniques you’ve been struggling with. After all that foundation building, take a leap of faith and trust it’s going to hold. If it doesn’t, you know you simply have more work to do.
When Susan Sonz, the Director of NYSH, suggested I start taking supervised cases halfway through my third year of study I felt flattered and terrified. I told her I didn’t know if I was ready yet. After all, I was still a year and half away from graduation. Susan replied, “You never feel ready. But you have to start sometime, and it’s much easier to start now rather than wait until you’re on your own.” I wasn’t sure how to go about finding clients who might be willing to put their well-being into the hands of a mere student, and I wasn’t at all sure of my own ability to take a case and choose a remedy. But, if Susan believed I could do it, then maybe I was better prepared than I realized. I decided to trust her judgment and take the plunge.
Over time, I began to understand the wisdom of Susan’s suggestion. It was very comforting to be able to come into class each month or meet with my study group to share case-taking experiences and help each other negotiate the many pitfalls and perils we faced as beginning practitioners. My classmates and Susan gave me great support, celebrating my successes or consoling and mentoring me through those cases that didn’t go so well.
As for clients, it turned out I had no trouble finding them. My first client referred others and they, in turn, referred friends and family. These people were eager and grateful for the opportunity to work with me for a nominal fee, and were more than willing to put up with my inexperience. If you build it, they will come. I will be forever grateful to this group of trusting and patient people who taught me so much!
Beginner’s luck began to turn into a more reliable technique, as I began to apply what we were discovering each month in the student clinic to my private cases. And my personal experiences informed the work we were doing in class. The rest of that third year and my final fourth year were deeper, richer experiences because I had taken the first steps towards independence as a private practitioner while I still had many hands to hold on to.
I have seen that students who put off their supervised case-taking have a much harder time getting started. After graduation, without that regular connection to a support network of fellow students and teachers, many become stuck in limbo between student and practitioner. They may have the necessary skills, but they are held back by their own trepidations with no one to give them the necessary push. It’s much harder to throw yourself into the deep end! Some found the courage and self-discipline necessary to get started, others continue to languish, not yet brave enough to take that leap.
Susan offered me the position of NYSH Administrator at the beginning of my third year of study. This enabled me to continue my association with the school beyond my own graduation. While this kind of opportunity is rare, there are many ways to stay associated with your homeopathic learning group. I urge you to find a way to do that. For example, start a study group, offer to mentor a first or second year student, volunteer to help organize a seminar or special event. Also look for opportunities to teach or talk about homeopathy in your neighborhood. And this brings me to the next important thing you need to cultivate…
TOOL #3 – COMMUNITY “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” ~Helen Keller.
Take advantage of the relationships you forged during your training and find a way to extend them into your professional life. Homeopathy is too hard to do all by yourself!
I completed my final year of formal training at NYSH in June, 2009, feeling well prepared intellectually to transition from student to homeopath. I’d been given a solid foundation in philosophy, materia medica, and lots of hands-on, direct case-taking and case management opportunities over the course of my four years of study. But it can be emotionally difficult to leave the relatively safe, established structure provided to us as students and begin to face the uncertain demands of life as an independent practitioner.
Here in New York State, while some graduates might join with others as part of an alternative medical practice, the vast majority of us end up working solo in a private or home office space. I found after a few months working on my own, that the initial thrill of private practice was wearing off. I was beginning to feel isolated and overwhelmed by questions I had no answers for. Being a homeopathic hermit was eroding my confidence and making it difficult to gain perspective on my progress. I missed the collegial support that had served me so well during my training. Then I realized there was no need to miss it; I just had to find a way to re-establish it in my new, post-graduate world.
And so, after some discussion with Susan and my fellow graduates (who were feeling much the same way I was), we established a Graduate Apprentice Program. This program works like an internship in which a small group is invited to observe Susan take cases, and then participate in the case analysis. Sessions are every few weeks and provide us, as new practitioners, with the luxury of being able to observe a master clinician at work without the pressure of needing to “solve” the case. It’s also a forum for the kind of lively debate we experienced each month in class. And it’s a great way to network, stay in touch with and support each other.
So I urge you to join any group or organization that will make you feel part of the larger homeopathic community. And, if such a community doesn’t exist where you are, make one for yourself! It can be as simple as agreeing to meet with a colleague for coffee one afternoon a week – find that someone willing to walk in the dark with you.
Now here I am in my third year of practice, and I can look back and see the significant progress I’ve made in a very short time. I can also see how much I still have to learn. I happily acknowledge that I will be a life-long student of homeopathy, but now I feel I’m a practitioner who studies rather than a student trying to practice.
I got a call from that first client of mine last week. She continues to do very well on this same remedy after more than three years. She recently had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. This experience disordered her a bit. As a result, her original chief complaint of seasonal allergies was flaring up. A few doses of Naja 30c put her to rights again. She emailed to say, “Well, I am definitely improved after two days of treatment. Thanks so much!” It’s this kind of success that makes all the hard work worthwhile.