Before I start this dialogue, I would like to remind the readers that I have just launched a blog on my website www.lookingbackmovingforward.com for discussions about how we feel about our profession, how we feel about what is discussed in the interviews, for us to share our experiences and to create an international place to meet and chat in the matrix. Feel free to come and visit and contribute your thoughts.
And now for your monthly slice from my book Looking Back Moving Forward (www.lookingbackmovingforward.com). This time I have chosen international teacher and successful London practitioner for the last thirty years, Simon Taffler, to inspire you.
I first met Simon Taffler in Malvern in November 2004 where I met several of the other interviewees. Simon and I had stayed in touch since meeting for joyous conversations about homeopathy and our profession. We set this specific session up for the purpose of the interview and I was very excited about it as Simon is one of the high earners within our profession and he has carved for himself a successful career in homeopathy. It was a cold yet sunny Monday 28 November 2005 that I picked him up from my local train station and took him back to my home for lunch and a long and fruitful conversation.
SIMON: I see the need in the UK and in the USA for the vision of homeopathy to change and be clearer, especially about where our profession is going. And I see a lot of common traits that I am not comfortable with. Homeopaths for example, are susceptible to working in their ivory tower alone – forsaken, isolated and separated from the world. With that susceptibility in mind, I think we should be working together and opening centres of excellence that invite research and co-operation in which homeopaths work together to improve and evolve themselves and their profession.
Perhaps a floor of a building in Harley Street with two-way mirrors in all the treatment rooms so that practitioners and students can observe, learn and give advice. Then, if you have got a problem with a patient, you just walk into the observation room and invite someone who has been observing into the clinic room to help. This is an experience I had in Sri Lanka this summer where I was working. There were ten or eleven of us all practising in one room without any curtains, without barriers and I loved it because people called me down to diagnose something or treat someone and they sent me patients and I did the same. I like that kind of interaction and it has got to be much healthier, in my mind, than working in isolation and competition. This ethos acknowledges our collective susceptibility and offers opportunities for all sorts of learning and healing.
ROWENA: You spoke earlier about going to the USA in order to study further how to teach homeopathy. What were your frustrations with how homeopathy was taught here?
SIMON: It has been changing in the last few years, but there are a number of schools that still have a curriculum that is very allopathic with a disproportionate emphasis on the material aspects of health and not enough importance given to the energetic aspects of life. And homeopathy is a vitalist, energetic medicine. If you take the model in the Organon of the mind, body, soul and spirit of homeopathy, then the mind, soul and spirit are the energetic parts of the totality leaving the body as the only physical part. That means three quarters of our being is energetic and one quarter is physical.
In my opinion many curricula are based the other way around – that is three quarters physical and one quarter energetic, if that. And some schools are even more physically inclined, particularly the ones that have gone for university degree status, and that has meant that the way they do anatomy, physiology and pathology is much more allopathic than homeopathic. So, I have a problem with this. The extreme of this occurs at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. They were much more homeopathic in their thinking, but not anymore; now they think and prescribe like allopaths. When I went there a few years ago a patient would sit in front of a doctor for say ten or fifteen minutes, the repertory would be opened and they would look at asthma and locate the black type remedies and keep trying them until one of them made a difference. That is not homeopathy.
What I see is that the essence of the curriculum of homeopathy has not changed in the last twenty years and it is very allopathically oriented. What I have found is that many of the people I supervise are allopathic thinkers prescribing homeopathy and I don’t get on very well with that concept and I cannot supervise them very easily. So I encourage them to venture forth on a transition process from allopathic to homeopathic thinking. However, everything in our society validates allopathic thinking, so people need to do this journey against the current.
For me, a homeopathic curriculum needs to acknowledge and recognise primarily that the student is there to make this transition, this journey from allopathic to homeopathic thinking. From thinking and considering things from a culturally based model that validates allopathic meaning, to being prepared to stand behind a philosophy that understands life differently and puts us on the margins of society. When we start thinking differently, we start appreciating different values based on different assumptions and we start having a comprehension of a way of understanding that validates individual experience over notions of collective symptom pictures or syndromes.
In my opinion, one of the biggest problems we have in ensuring the future of homeopathy, is how do we make sure that our curriculum is homeopathic and not allopathic? And this could get worse once we have a single register. The more the Government and conventional Western medicine become involved with homeopathy, the more allopathically thinking and allopathically validating it could become. If homeopaths don’t think homeopathically they will not be able to teach their patients nor advocate clearly for their profession.
This is reflected in the media that constantly criticises homeopathy from an allopathic perspective and headlines research that can only invalidate homeopathy given the premises under which the research was undertaken. You cannot double-blind test homeopathy, it just cannot happen and there is no point trying. It just won’t work because the essence of homeopathy is about treating everybody as an individual. And that means double-blind testing won’t work.
Homeopathy prescribed and researched allopathically is happening all the time. The 2002-3 research into Arnica for pain relief after carpal tunnel release surgery is a good example as I don’t know a single homeopath who would give Arnica for postoperative carpal tunnel pain relief in the first place. But this type of research and the thinking behind it and the media that publishes it, is going on all the time and I think it affects the way homeopaths write their brochures, the way they promote their clinics, the way they think about what they do, the way they address their patients and the way they address the world. And I have problems with that, because to me that is not homeopathy. You can see I feel passionately about this.
ROWENA: Yes, I can see that. So what is the answer Simon; how do we move our profession forward?
SIMON: I think everybody needs to be plopped into a crucible that nurtures and supports them to think homeopathically.
It is important that students get exposed to as many different forms of practise as possible. It is not about creating little Simon Tafflers or teaching and making little Rowena Ronsons. It is about everybody becoming the person that they can be and practising in their own way and I think that that is very important. Listen, I started in a class of around two hundred and fifty potential homeopaths of which at the end, I think, fewer than forty graduated. The year I left the College of Homeopathy, ten of us transferred to the School of Homeopathy and many more left without completing the course. It was an appalling indictment of the way I was taught and if I think of the people that started with me, I don’t know how many of them are still practising.
So learning homeopathy clearly is not just about helping people prescribe; it is about validating the chosen philosophical framework (homeopathic) and then helping them validate their experiences by reviewing their understanding of the world. This is one way of looking at what a remedy does. And that is the starting point because many of the people who graduate don’t practise. They need to be exposed to as much personal development, validation and acknowledgment as possible. Then they will know that it is OK that we think differently from everybody else and that we can address medical problems based on the experience of the patient and not on what a test says. They will know that people’s health is transitory and that we have assumptions in homeopathy that actually support the way people understand their health.
Case taking in homeopathy is unique and extremely pertinent and relevant to every single practitioner of medicine anywhere in the world. When I teach doctors, I don’t start by telling them about remedies. Instead, I tell them how we take a case, because it is an eye opener for them. And when doctors sit in on my practice and I take a case, they ask me where I get the information from. That is because they sit and hear, and I sit and listen. Hearing, for me, is a physical thing you do and listening is an active participation in a conversation without influencing it. I think people need to be trained and it is a skill that they have to have when they leave homeopathy school. And that is much more important than how many remedies they know because you can always look up a remedy.
I am concerned that homeopathy could die because it could get swallowed into an integrated health care programme where the primary responsibility for a patient is taken by an allopathic doctor who will validate tests and research over personal experience. In other words, I see that conventional Western medical practitioners will validate explanations over experience while homeopaths validate experience over explanation. I cannot envisage an integrated medicine approach working for homeopathy, because as I said before, the homeopathic paradigm has a greater worldview than conventional Western medicine. And therefore, allopathy or Western medicine fits nicely into homeopathy but not the other way around.
I hope you enjoyed reading this extract from Simon’s chapter in Looking Back Moving Forward and it has given you plenty of food for thought! I would very much welcome a worldwide discussion on the issues raised by Simon. If you visit the blog on my website, www.lookingbackmovingforward.com, you can make your contribution and also receive a ten percent discount if you buy the book. Also, please check out the website which has very recently been updated with all the latest reviews. Many thanks!
Long live homeopathy!