Reprinted courtesy Homeopathy in Practice, (The Journal of the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths), Winter 2011 & Spring 2012 editions.
According to Greek mythology, Psyche was a young woman who loved and was loved by Eros (Cupid) and who subsequently became known as the personification of the human soul.
Psychology and psychiatry generally define the psyche as being the mind and as such, central to our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Therefore our mind functions as the regulator of bodily responses in line with our social and physical environments.These two ‘sciences of the mind’ also make reference to the conscious mind (the Freudian ego); the unconscious mind (wherein activity takes place of which the person is unaware) and the subconscious mind (activity just below the level of awareness). [source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Psyche] So, the psyche can be said to represent not just our soul, but our conscious and subconscious mind operating in tandem with our conscious and subconscious body.
This article hopes to explore some of the links between psychology and homeopathy and how our psyche may articulate them. In reading these signals, we can access extra information to help us gain further insights to our patients and their expressions of disease – and also into ourselves as practitioners.
MIND-BODY LINKS VIA OUR PSYCHE
All living things have an individual energy and homeopathy employs the energy of substances in its remedies. Remedies work with each person and their unique energy by resonating with them on the physical, emotional, conscious, unconscious and subconscious levels. All these levels influence and impact upon one another in our various expressions of self and ‘how we are’. It is beneficial for homeopaths and patients alike to remember these unconscious, subconscious and conscious realms of the body and mind and to be able to identify and interpret the most accessible.
A life-span view of our development helps to illustrate the interplay between these realms and to show the physical body can remember and imprint its minds’ experiences over time. Developmental psychology tells us that the human brain at birth is among the most immature but possibly the most flexible of the body’s systems. However, it is highly responsive to any external stimuli, even in utero and indeed the rapid rate of nervous impulses jumping across the synapse (the gap between nerve endings of one nerve cell and the next) shows just how quickly a newborn’s brain develops in its new and intense post-birth environment (Myers 2010). The brain creates neural pathways by processing and making sense of each new experience, whether positive or negative, whilst the body creates movements, sounds and signals in response.
Of course, as homeopaths we are trained to ask about birth and pregnancy experiences as well as the dynamics of early childhood. This not only can provide vital clues to an individual’s constitutional or fundamental state, general temperament and so on, but insights into behaviours at this stage of life also may reveal any likely attachment-related issues. Psychologists have long maintained that a healthy attachment between infant and caregiver/s in early life contributes towards emotional well-beingin later lifeand more recently it has been highlighted that positive attachment also enhances our ability to mediate stress and trauma (Rothschild 2000). Hence there may be telling behaviours or habits formed in the early years that point towards ways of reacting to and dealing with teenage and adult stressful situations. A homeopath can then pick up on these pointers in order to help with remedy choices.
Cognitive psychology concerns itself with memory. Memory is basically the recording, storage and recall of information from our internal and external environments, rather like a computer. Human remembering, however, is a process that involves our sensory memory (hearing, sight, taste, smell and touch) as well as conscious thoughts, unconscious actions, emotions and behaviours. All of these faculties are integral to how we perceive and interpret the world (Hayes 2000) and we may draw upon some or any of these clues to recall information. For example, many people find certain perfumes or smells very evocative and will be to remember more information about a given situation than if they were asked about, say, their age at the time or place it occurred. Some people are much more visually oriented and may remember colours more easily, whilst others may recall texture, and so on.Sothe more subtleclues may prove more useful and gentler for a homeopath to elicit elusive information, particularly if recall of traumatic information is involved.
In contrast, we can determine that the conscious bodyis primarily functional and (usually!) un-subtle. It simply consists of all our deliberate movements, actions and motor functionspeople use to perform a task in hand, but the manner in which the movements are carried out is more revealing and pertinent to us; in other words, whether these movements are quick, awkward, ponderous, slap-dash and so on.
The unconscious and subconscious bodies include our reflexes (e.g. yawning, blinking, sneezing etc) and background bodily processes (e.g. digestion)of which we are not necessarily aware and sometimes cannot override. This is otherwise known as our autonomic nervous system (ANS) because it is self-regulating and functions autonomously. Basic psychology textbooks tell us that the ANS is divided into two branches, the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems (SNS and PNS respectively), which normally function in complementary balance with each other to maintain our internal homeostasis according to requirements and stress levels of daily life. It can be consciously over-ridden: for example, controlled breathing. In times of stress (positive or negative arousal), the SNS is the more active, whilst in resting states, the PNS is more engaged. Table (i) below illustrates these actions continuously going on in our bodies, usually beneath our consciousness:
Table (i) Autonomic Nervous System Function
|AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
glands and smooth muscles of internal organs
|SYMPATHETIC BRANCH||PARASYMPATHETIC BRANCH|
|Arousing & expending energy during positive & negative stress, states including orgasm, rage, anxiety etc & preparing for any defensive action.||Activates during relaxation, rest, sexual arousal, happiness, anger, grief, etc & calming &conserving energy to allow routine bodily maintenance.|
|NOTICEABLE PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS|
|Faster respiration||Slower, deeper breathing|
|Increased heart rate/pulse||Slower heart rate/pulse|
|Higher blood pressure, raised blood sugar||Lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar|
|Dilated pupils||Constricted pupils|
|Paler skin colour||Flushed skin colour|
|Increased perspiration||Perspiration normal|
|Cold skin, sometimes clammy||Dry skin, usually warm to touch|
|Digestion decreased||Digestion increased|
|Stimulates orgasm||Sexual arousal|
|Prepares for swift action, instigating possible fight or flight reflex||Activates with or masks sympathetic action & possible ‘freeze’ mechanism or ‘going dead’|
[adapted from: Babette Rothschild (2000), The Body Remembers, Norton].
It is becoming generally more accepted that the ways in which we deal (or, rather, not!) with stress, grief, anger or trauma and other negative emotions often manifest physically as a headache, or digestive episodes, or a skin rash and so on. Body-mind theorist Debbie Shapiro (2002) has encouraged us to pay attention to those many messages that lie behind physiological disorders: just as the body reflects what is going on in the mind, the mind is subject to the discomforts being expressed in the body.
Food for thought?
Interestingly, a further logic for these once-named psychosomatic* disorders, has been highlighted. This comes from an emergent field of research, that of neurogastroenterology (Blakeslee 1996). An Enteric Nervous System has been identified, consisting of two interconnected human brains: the more familiar one in the skull and the second locatedin the nerve fibres of the gut, or more precisely, in the tissues lining the œsophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Almost every substance that contributes to brain function has been found in the gut, including major neurotransmitters; more than twenty brain proteins; the major cells of the immune system and also a type of our body’s natural opiates. Furthermore, the gut is a rich source of the family of psychoactive chemicals included in many major tranquillisers.
* [1. Of or relating to a disorder having physical symptoms but originating from mental or emotional causes; 2. Relating to or concerned with the influence of the mind on the body, and the body on the mind, especially with respect to disease, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/psychosomatic ]
The existence of these two brains has also been explained in developmental terms (Blakeslee 1996). A clump of tissue called the neural crest forms early on in the development of the human embryo and one section becomes the Central Nervous System (our brain and spinal chord). The other becomes the Enteric Nervous System and later on in development the two nervous systems are connected via the vagus nerve. Research is still ongoing as to the precise circuitry of each of the two brain systems and how they interconnect.
So, this is more than just food for thought. Our gastro-intestinal system has long been regarded as a repository for both negative and positive emotions that can manifest physically as‘nervous butterflies’, stomach cramps, ‘toilet problems’, acid risings and so on, or as our instinctive or intuitive ‘gut feelings’. In the light of more modern science it also seems the case that emotional states from the brain are mirrored in the gut. And vice versa.
The conscious mind is simply all our myriad of thoughts, logical or not, with which we deliberately and consciously engage. The realm of the subconscious mind usually remains hidden from us, as its name implies.This, of course, is not to say that it is not present and cannot be accessed, for we often recognise our own ‘Freudian slips’ and interpret our dreams! Seriously however, homeopaths are not (often) trained counsellors or psychotherapists, even though our training and experience would have included some basic counselling skills for the case-taking context and to assist with mental-emotionally focussed remedy choices.
However, it is important to recognie when a patient may need to be referred for professional counselling or psychotherapy. Talking therapies work most effectively in tandem with homeopathic treatment, when necessary, but it is vital that both the chosen psychotherapeutic perspective, as well as the individual counsellor resonate with the vulnerable individual whose subconscious mind is being accessed.
NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION (NVC): READING THE UNSAID
Our subconscious body also includes gestures, expressions or body language that we don’t necessarily employ on a conscious level and these messages from our subconscious (mind) frequently appear in a very readable manner in our (body’s) behaviours and conversations. This phenomenon of non-verbal communication (NVC) can be deliberate or not. Social psychology maintains that non-verbal aspects of interpersonal communication can be more telling than the verbal and, likewise, that which is not said can be more revealing than the discourse itself (Hayes 2000). Much is conveyed by the way people speak and respond to othersin terms of factors like speed, pitch, tone, accent, gaps between conversation turn-taking, repetition, the amount of ‘hmm’s’ and ‘you knows’ etc (known as para-language) and attention to this can provide valuable signposts to those all-important firstand continuing impressions of our patients.Indeed, the sensation method of case-taking (Sankaran 2005) highlights para-language in determining the energy level of a person’s expression of their dis-ease. The method also evaluates observation and interpretation of gestures that accompany and clarify patient descriptions as important keys to their source.
Generally speaking then, NVC in its many forms can enhance or diminish most forms of interpersonal interaction (Argyle 1988) and can reveal more to the observer than what is or what is not vocalised. Here again we can identify the interplay between the conscious and subconscious aspects of body and mind as what we are (usually) deliberately saying is mirrored or amplified by that which we are not paying attention to.
The face is the most obvious channel by which we demonstrate our emotions and six basic (adult) emotional expressions have been shown to be fairly constant across cultures (Ekman 1982). These are anger; disgust/contempt; fear; happiness; sadness;surprise; (see Illustration 1).
There is another classic observation pinned down by social psychology that provides us a perfect illustration of how our unconscious body (in the form of a reflex) reflects our conscious mind (in the form of physical attraction). It is well established that when we are sexually attracted to another person, our pupils dilate. Further, that prolonged eye contact with someone you are fond of is a signal of affection, but the same from a stranger is often taken as a threat, and often prompts withdrawal. That prolonged eye contact is not easily ignored illustrates how powerful NVC can be (Hayes 2000).
Emotions and the Whole Body
Broadening this theme a little, Babette Rothschild (2000) sums up how the six human emotions (with the substitution of shame for surprise) are understood and labelled by the mind and then integrally expressed as bodily experiences. Table (ii) illustrates this by examples:
Table (ii): Emotional and Bodily Expression
|KEY EMOTION||PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE||PHYSICAL BEHAVIOUR||PHYSICAL EXPRESSION||VERBAL EXPRESSION|
|ANGER||Muscular tension, especially jaw &/or shoulders||Fighting, yelling||Jaw clamped shut, red or heightened skin colour||“What a complete pain in the neck/bum”|
|DISGUST||Nausea||Turning away||Wrinkled nose & raised upper lip||“It makes me feel really sick”|
|FEAR||Trembling, racing heart||Shaking, taking flight||Wide eyes, raised brows, trembling||“I’ve got butterflies in my stomach”|
|HAPPINESS||deep breathing, sighing||Laughing, smiling||Wide, bright eyes||“I could burst”|
|SADNESS||Eyes wet, lump in the throat||Crying, weeping||Flowing tears, down-turned mouth||“I’m really choked up”|
|SHAME||Rising heat, especially in face||Hiding, avoiding||Averted gaze, blushing||“I can’t look you in the eye”|
[adapted from: Babette Rothschild (2000) The Body Remembers, Norton]
There are other non-verbal aspects of human interaction that convey significant conscious and/or subconscious information about an individual to others. These include factors like conscious and unconscious gestures (see earlier); spatial behaviour (proxemics), posture and other bodily movements as well as ouractual (usually consciously chosen or amended) physical appearance and dress. It is worthwhile mentioning these in the context of this article.
As noted earlier, people habitually employ various hand and arm gestures to enhance or emphasise what we are conveying verbally and these can be highly significant in daily life as well as in the case-taking process. There is much cross-cultural variation in the extent of ‘talking with our hands’: for example, Italian and Spanish speakers are noted for using this technique much more in conversation than those from northern Europe (Argyle 1988, Myers 2010). There are also many cultural variations in styles of formal greetings (handshaking, bowing, embracing etc), as well as in commonly used gestures to convey something derogatory (!)
There are both environmental and interpersonal messages in this area of NVC. In the first context, much store is put on appropriate table layouts and positioning for formal versus informal settings and, in work-related settings, the use of counters in shops,and seating-to-desk arrangements to hierarchically signify who’s domain should be where, or to put people at their ease (or not) during an interview or indeed the homeopathic consultation.
Interpersonally, the proximity of one person to another is very significantand we learn our culturally appropriate, proxemic rules quite early on in life. In other words we know what distances to keep between ourselves and others according to the situation and other’s relationship to us and we tend to become quite uncomfortable when our ‘personal space’ is invaded by strangers.
Posture and Movement
Illustration 2 is reproduced from Argyle (1998). It shows how the whole body is used as a powerful signal of one’s general attitude and demeanour, as opposed to gestures which normally just involve hand and arm movements to convey something specific.
Illustration 2: Meaning of Some Bodily Postures
(a) curious; (b) puzzled; (c) indifferent;(d) rejecting; (e) watching; (f) self-satisfied;
(g) welcoming; (h) determined; (i) stealthy; (j) searching; (k)watching; (1) attentive;
(m) violent anger; (n) excited; (o) stretching; (p)surprised, dominating, suspicious;
(q) sneaking; (r) shy; (s) thinking; (t)affected
[Source: Rosenberg and Langer 1965 in Argyle (1998)]
This is a particular area where the message conveyed by the whole body is seen as a more reliable indicator of someone’s attitude than what they are saying (Hayes 2000). Certainly, we seem to speedily recognise a casual or defensive posture, an aggressive stance or a relaxed position in others. Posture in conversation also has an interesting meaning: if we are listening to someone else, or talking with a friend then ‘postural echo’ often occurs. This is when our unconscious body adopts the same posture or body positioning as the other person and it is held that it signals a message that we are interested and ‘on the same wavelength’ as they are. Again, observing and being aware of such dynamics adds meaning and context to homeopathic case-taking.
Dressing to Impress& Appearance
Conscious use of specific signifiers such as badges, tattoos, body piercings etcin order to convey certain messagesabout ourselves has been habitual in many societies including ours for many years, even though these can also just be fashion statements.
A ‘proper’ code of dress for interviews and other formal situations, particularly weddings and funerals, exists which is quite deeply entrenched in both western and eastern cultures. Uniforms are especially potentemblems of role or status.There are also appropriate colour choices for formal or traditional occasions and also to signify certain hierarchies in societies. Consider too the ‘white coat syndrome’ where a person’s heart rate increases when blood pressure is about to be tested!
In the absence of further information about another person, we will automatically and immediately make cognitive assumptions about them or form certain stereotypical impressions. Cognitive psychology tells us that this is an inevitable part of the human condition in its constant mission to make sense of our environment and indeed it does seem to be the case if we just pause and think about our own assumptions regarding others. In the 1800s, Charles Darwin aligned certain physiological features with character traits and also with (purported) degrees of intelligence (Hayes2000) and there are vestiges of these types of theories alive today. For example, we initially make an assumption that a fat person is jolly; a person with a high forehead is seen as intelligent and so on.As we become more familiar and have more information available to us then these initial impressions of others are either amended or confirmed.
MIASMATIC INHERITANCE & THE PSYCHE
Samuel Hahnemann recognised the existence and importance to chronic health and dis-ease of the three major miasms (or correctly, miasma) of his day, as well as acknowledging the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle and bad medical treatment:
“If we deduct all chronic affectations, ailments and diseases that depend on a persistent unhealthy mode of living, as also those innumerable medicinal maladies caused by irrational, persistent, harassing and pernicious treatment of diseases….most of the remainder of chronic diseases result from the development of these three chronic miasms…” [p.227, aphorism §204 ]
Today, the concepts of miasma as being either inherited from our ancestry and/or acquired through life by direct or indirect contact is generally accepted in homeopathy. So is the notion of their roots being in the major, prevalent dis-eases that have greatly affected humankind over time. Today too, miasma are mostly held to be of five categories, psora, sycosis, syphillis, tuberculosis and cancer: the latter two having been accepted after Hahnemann’s time. Sankaran (2005) recognises a further five miasma however: acute, typhoid, malaria, ringworm and leprosy. His conceptualisation of a miasm relates to the degree and level (of self) at which a person experiences not just their central sensation but also their life: a view that accepts and extends the traditional mental-emotional aspects of the miasmatic nosodes listed in most of our current Materia Medica.
Thus, miasma are not just physical phenomena or inherited health susceptibilities but factors that affect our whole psyche. This is because they also embrace influences that prevalent, pandemic dis-eases have or had upon society, along with peoples’ pre-occupations, associated behaviours and how we express or have expressed our experiences of difficult times. Also, in terms of our psyche, miasmatic emotional expression can also be non-pathological and uncomplicated, or a person may present homeopathically with just associated physiological and/or general ailments of a particular miasm that are troubling them.
Ian Watson (2009) sees the five miasma as personal challenges from which we can learn, rather than as potential blocks to cure and indicators of disease susceptibilities. He also points out that in Hahnemann’s day, there was much work going on in developing the germ theory of disease and prophylactic vaccination by researchers like Edward Jenner, which could explain the original (and still somewhat pervasive) negative homeopathic view of the miasma as enemies to be driven out and eradicated.
Another emerging science called epigenetics provides an interesting socio-biological take on inherited factors of our lives that mirrors homeopathic thinking. A BBC Horizon programme broadcast in 2006 reported that epigenetic theory holds that our genes are not merely biological DNA, but have an integral memory factor which passes on our grandparents’ life experiences. This is in addition to physiological factors such as eye, hair and skin colour, body shape and so on. Ancient parish records in a northern Swedish town reveal an effect of famine at critical times during the lives of grandparents upon the life expectancy of their grandchildren. (The psoric miasm springs to mind here with its characteristic worries about insufficiencies). Further epigenetic research has led to other proposals that there is a type of gene which can be switched on or off by environmental triggers and that the actual switch itself can be inherited. So, our memories and therefore our psyches are inheritable factors from this standpoint too.
Table (iii) illustrates various perspectives of the major five miasmic influences upon the human psyche that homeopathy can draw upon to interpret a person’s inheritance. It shows the traditional homeopathic keynote, a (non-pathological) psychological interpretation and representative verbal expressions of a person’s central sensation. Also included is an accordance with the Buddhist tradition of the Five Hindrances to full spiritual development (termed nivarana), which in turn can be said to correspond roughly with the Western concept of the seven deadly sins. Such (essentially religious) teachings become culturally and secularly embedded in society and in the human psyche over time and can provide a meaningful cross-cultural backdrop to our understanding of humankind.
Table (iii) Interpretations of the 5 Major Miasma
|MAJOR MIASM||TRADITIONAL CENTRAL KEYNOTE||UNCOMPLICATED EXPRESSION||SANKARAN’S DEPTH OF SENSATION||BUDDHIST NIRVANA|
|Psoric||Under-production||Survival, security||“If I struggle, I’ll be able to cope”||Sloth, Torpor|
|Syphilitic||Destruction||Ability to let go & move on anew||“I can’t get out of this, its fixed so I’ll seek revenge”||Anger, Ill Will|
|Sycotic||Over-production||Growth, generosity||“I can’t get over it so I can live with it or cover it up”||Lust, Greed|
|Tubercular||Restlessness||Creativity, integration||“I can’t cover up so I must keep changing”||Dissatisfaction, Restlessness|
|Cancer||Suppression||Self-identity, boundaries||“I may just manage but I’m on the verge of being lost”
Regardless of whether the miasma are a negative or positive inheritance, and how many there are held to be, the manner in which their influences impact upon our conscious minds and bodies, as well as their inseparable, subconscious and unconscious counterparts, is clear to see.
Homeopathy is able to take the messages that come from either our bodies or our emotions as a starting point to the curative journey, because it views any troublesome symptoms as an indication that something is out of kilter with us. A homeopathic cure embraces both unconscious and subconscious messages that surface and, inevitably, contribute to the log of that journey to cure.
In health and wellbeing therefore, we need to understand how the subconscious body tries to inform us about our health and how the subconscious mind tries to communicate this information. It does so by producing symptoms, often inexplicably and usually to our discomfort. This is the way our physical self reacts and manifests emotionally. And vice versa. Mind (psyche) and body are indeed inseparable.
Argyle, Michael (1988): Bodily Communication, (second edition), University Paperbacks, Methuen & Co. Ltd, London
Ekman, P (1982): Emotion in the Human Face, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press
Hahnemann, Samuel translated by William Boericke (1921): Organon of Medicine (6th Edition), IBPP, New Delhi, India
Hayes, Nicky (2000): Foundations of Psychology: An Introductory Text, 3rd edition, Routledge, London
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Myers, David G (2010): Psychology, 9th edition, Worth Publishers, New York
Rothschild, Babette (2000): The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment, Norton, New York
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Shapiro, Debbie (2002): The Body Mind Workbook: Explaining How the Mind and Body Work Together, Vega, London
Watson Ian (2009): The Homeopathic Miasms: A Modern View, Cutting Edge Publications, Devon, England