Strange Tales: Understanding Mental and Emotional Symptoms in Homeopathic Medicine

Strange Tales: Understanding Mental and Emotional Symptoms in Homeopathic Medicine

The usual personality is an expression of the spirit, and though it can become imbalanced as part of illness, and this can be a guide to treatment, we cannot expect that we can change personality through homeopathic prescribing.


On first learning homeopathy it seems intuitively right when one is presented with the idea that the psychological aspect of the patient is affected by disease just as much as is the physical body. One can’t help but agree especially when we have all had the experience of being sick ourselves. We know how much we are affected by illness at all levels.

Soon, however, the situation becomes more murky. What do we mean by mental or emotional symptoms when considering them from a homeopathic perspective? From our experience in this culture, we come to think of mental and emotional illness as something different than other kinds of diseases like infectious illness, chronic degenerative disease, etc. These psychological signs become the province of a different sort of doctor – one who talks to us or gives us “brain chemicals” to correct a functional imbalance.

Even when we begin to think homeopathically we run up against the thinking we absorbed as children and, almost without decision, we tend to put symptoms that are behavioral into a different category. Thus it is an obstacle to us in understanding the same perspective that Hahnemann had.

The purpose of this paper is to explore this topic in more detail – at first, from the perspective of Hahnemann – to try to see what he was thinking when he discussed this type of illness in his writings. Given this foundation, I would like to then add to it what has been learned about the brain and its functions since that time. I hope we can come to a better understanding of how to use this information in our cases.

Hahnemann’s Ideas

The topic of mental and emotional disease is discussed in paragraphs 210 to 230 of the Organon. It is very interesting that Hahnemann starts the discussion by bringing back an idea previously discussed in paragraph 176 – that is the concept of “one-sided” disease. He defines this as being a situation in which “all the rest of the disease symptoms vanish, as it were, before a great, prominent symptom”. He then tells us that the “so-called” (his quotes) mental and emotional diseases are of this kind.

This is an extraordinary perspective is it not? Hahnemann is telling us that illness of this type is not fundamentally different than other types of disease except in its way of manifesting. That is, it tends to gather under a prominent symptom with the rest of the pattern becoming less noticeable.

Here is the sequence of ideas that are discussed by Hahnemann in reference to understanding these symptoms:

  • Almost all of the one-sided diseases are outcomes of the psoric miasm.
  • Mental and emotional diseases are included in this same category of one-sided or defective diseases.
  • They are not fundamentally different from other illnesses affecting the body, as the frame of mind is always altered to some degree in illness.
  • The emotional state of the patient often decides the remedy when considering a differential. It is a peculiar symptom.
  • These mental and emotional changes are always seen in provings as well as in illness.
  • These symptoms seen in provings are unique expressions of each medicine, that is, each medicine expresses individuality.
  • This class of diseases are to be treated in the same way as any other (physically) oriented disease, e.g., on the basis of similarity.
  • To prescribe for these cases, one must go into the history of prior symptoms looking for physical signs that existed before and also for confirmatory signs that are subtle at the present time but which can be seen once knowing what is in the history.

So here we already have a context in which to consider this type of case. The condition is not really different than any other type of illness, for example, a diarrhea or stomach upset. What is unique is that it becomes focused under one major symptom and, further, that this is typical of the expression of psora.

Relation between somatic and psychic illness

We then come to a very interesting discussion in the Organon.

It is now stated that almost all those diseases that we label “mental or emotional” are physical diseases in the beginning, when they start. They go through a process in which the physical symptoms diminish (slowly or rapidly, depending on the case) while the psychological changes become the prominent symptoms, even the only ones, that remain.

Hahnemann refers to it like this: “finally the disease transfers itself (almost like a local malady) to the invisibly subtle mental and emotional organs.”

There are two things I would like to emphasize in this statement. One is the idea of localization, the other the idea of mental and emotional organs.


An important concept in the Organon is this idea of the localization of lesions. It is something that the life force does in response to the presence of an inimical influence – a miasm, an infectious disease, etc. It will help us to understand that this tendency to localization is not something that occurs only when there is illness. It is a normal process in the formation of an organism. If we think how the single cell develops into a complex and differentiated adult, we can see how the different functions seen in the mature individual have become localized into particular organs and tissues.

When there is a mental and emotional illness then this same localization happens but it occurs in the organs that determine behavior instead of organs having to do with other functions. For example, if a disease localized in the stomach then we would have digestive trouble, if in the bladder then symptoms having to do with urination. Here we have localization in those parts having to do with behavioral functions.

Organs of behavior

This brings us to the latter part of Hahnemann’s statement, “the invisibly subtle mental and emotional organs.” There are different ways one could understand this. One could think that he means something psychical, e.g., not physical. However, a more accurate way I think is to link this with localization and ask ourselves what these mental and emotional organs would be.

The simplest interpretation is to assume this refers to the central nervous system. This is indeed the place that corresponds to this functioning. It is not to say that this is a complete explanation, but certainly it is the physical structure through which these functions operate.

Let’s take for example the very common symptom, especially in cats, of losing appetite. The great majority of cats that I deal with have this symptom to some degree.

Where is the control of appetite located? Research in physiology shows us that the appetite center in located in the hypothalamus. According to a standard physiology text “stimulation of the ventromedial nuclei of the hypothalamus causes complete satiety, and, even in the presence of highly appetizing food, the animal will still refuse to eat. Conversely, destructive lesions of the two respective areas cause results exactly opposite to those caused by stimulation. That is, ventromedial lesions cause voracious and continued eating until the animal becomes extremely obese, sometimes as large as 4 times normal size. And lesions of the lateral hypothalamic nuclei cause complete lack of desire for food and progressive inanition of the animal.”

Let’s look at what part of the brain we are considering.

Brain Stem Location 1

This shows the older areas of the nervous system, older in the sense of existing the longest in animals. Note that part that is like a stalk which sits upon the upper spinal cord and below the cerebrum. The large cerebrum is later in development and seen most readily in primates and human beings. The area we are concerned with can more readily be seen in the next picture:

Brain Stem in Cross Section 1

This image is reversed, right to left, compared to the one above. The top curved part is where the cerebrum would come from if it were not cut away to view the underlying structure. The big bump on the left middle is the cerebellum which functions primarily with balance and to coordinate body movements.

The thalamus consists of two rounded masses of gray tissue lying within the middle of the brain, between the two cerebral hemispheres. The thalamus is the main relay station for incoming sensory signals to the cerebral cortex and for outgoing motor signals from it. All sensory input to the brain, except that of the sense of smell, connects to individual nuclei of the thalamus.

The hypothalamus lies beneath the thalamus on the midline at the base of the brain. It regulates or is involved directly in the control of many of the body’s vital drives and activities, such as eating, drinking, temperature regulation, sleep, emotional behavior, and sexual activity. It also controls the function of internal body organs by means of the autonomic nervous system, interacts closely with the pituitary gland, and helps coordinate activities of the brain stem. The brain stem is evolutionarily the most primitive part of the brain and is responsible for sustaining the basic functions of life, such as breathing and blood pressure.

So this most common of symptoms, appetite disorder, is a disturbance of that part of the brain between the nervous system and the endocrine system. In a way we could say it is the first level of brain dysfunction – above that of the spinal cord.

What other symptoms might we see stemming from here? The hypothalamus has these other functions (besides control of appetite) which we can recognize are linked to clinical symptoms commonly seen:

  • Regulation of heart rate, blood pressure
  • Regulation of body temperature, shivering.
  • Regulation of body water (thirst center).
  • Feeding reflexes, such as licking the lips and swallowing.
  • Pupillary dilation.
  • Control of the secretion of thytrophin, adrenocortical, luteinizing, follicle-stimulating hormone, gonadotropic hormones, growth hormone and prolactin (causing lactation).

In many of my chronic cases I see symptoms related to these functions. Some animals have irregular heart rates or a pulse that is too rapid or too slow. It is not uncommon for an animal to have a strong temperature preference when ill, strongly seeking heat or cold places. Thirst can vary, many dogs losing their thirst while cats will become excessively thirsty. Licking the lips and swallowing is described for some cats, usually in terms of “gulping” behavior. The endocrine imbalances are many, ranging from lack of proper growth, to sexual behavior in neutered animals, to producing milk in spayed females and so on. Some cats will have a recurrent dilation of a pupil, often just one eye affected.

Experiments in which the hypothalamus has been stimulated in the lateral area has been observed to cause an “increase in the general level of activity of the animal, sometimes leading to overt rage and fighting”. This is not uncommon in cats often coupled with endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism.

Stimulation of the most medial portion of the medial hypothalamus “leads to fear and punishment reactions” that we see in cats that are perpetually “fraidy cats”.

Stimulation of the lateral portion of the medial hypothalamus will increase the sex drive, and thus precedes the influence of the gonads, e.g., will cause this behavior even in neutered animals.

Destruction of the lateral hypothalamus will decrease drinking and eating almost to zero, often leading to lethal starvation. This is associated with an extreme passivity of the animal with loss of most of the usual activities. Think of the cats that go into this pattern of loss of appetite, increasing inactivity and sleepiness as part of their illness.

Another very interesting part of the hypothalamus is what are called “reward and punishment centers”. These are areas that can be stimulated and cause the animal to be very pleased or satisfied or the opposite, to be terribly afraid, fearful, defensive, etc. This is the place from which can originate what is called a “rage pattern” with the animal (1) developing a defense posture, (2) extending its claws, (3) lifting its tail, (4) hissing, (5) spitting, (6) growling and (7) developing erection of the hair with wide-open eyes and dilated pupils. The slightest provocation causes an immediate savage attack. Do we recognize seeing this behavior in our patients? Other anatomically nearby areas will cause fear with the desire to run away and so on.

We see that the hypothalamus is a very important structure being the probable site of lesions leading to some of the common symptoms we encounter as veterinarians. However other areas of the brain, associated with the hypothalamus are equally important. For example, the amygdala, located in the temporal lobes of the cerebral cortex, has abundant direct connections with the hypothalamus. Lesions here can cause a variety of odd symptoms as in raising the head or bending the body involuntarily, or changes in urination and defecation behavior. It can lead to movements such as licking excessively or smelling things abnormally. There are many other changes effected by lesions here, too many to list in this presentation.

One other example, however, is the effect of removing the temporal lobes and the amygdala, both – what is called the Klüver-Bucy Syndrome. This results in the following behaviors:

  • Excessive tendency to examine objects orally.
  • Loss of fear.
  • Decreased aggressiveness.
  • Tameness.
  • Changes in dietary habits, even to the extent that a herbivorous animal frequently becomes carnivorous.
  • Sometimes psychic blindness.
  • Often excessive sex drive.

This results in the characteristic picture “of an animal that is not afraid of anything, has extreme curiosity about everything, forgets very rapidly, has a tendency to place everything in its mouth and sometimes even tries to eat solid objects, and finally, often has a sex drive so strong that it attempts to copulate with immature animals, animals of the wrong sex, or animals of a different species.”

It would be interesting to go through all the details of the lower brain structures to see what kind of symptoms would result from lesions in each part. However, what we have covered here is sufficient to see that it makes a great deal of sense for us to consider that mental and emotional diseases, as Hahnemann describes them, can be a result of localization of the disease to these specific structures.


Let’s now consider the more complicated, what we may call “higher order”, behaviors, that have to do with the animal’s functioning in a broader sense. What I want to do is to address the issue of instinct vs. individual learned behavior.

We might all use the word instinct to refer loosely to behavior which is like a reflex, somewhat involuntary one might say. It is more than that. Instinct refers to a very specific pattern of behavior, sometimes a very complicated sequence of behaviors, that is not learned but is innate, that is inherited. These behaviors come with the territory so to speak and are not voluntary for these animals. They can be blocked or over-ridden by a stronger stimulus, such as fear but they cannot consciously or voluntarily be put aside. If the stimulus is there, the instinctual behavior will happen.

This is of great importance to us as veterinarians because, except for primates, almost all the behavior we deal with in our patients is of this type.

Where does instinctual behavior originate? This is associated with the higher centers, above the level of brain stem and associated structures we have already discussed. It is seated in the cerebral cortex.

The cerebrum is small in many animals and is gradually larger as we move towards the primates and human beings. This is associated, from the primates on, with the emergence of individual conscious functioning in these terms: ability to perceive and remember what are the relations between cause and effect with that knowledge taking precedence and overriding instinct. I will give you some examples of this in a moment.

Let’s first look at the size of the cerebrum in a few animals.

Cerebrum Sizes in Animals 1

For most of the animals pictured, the cerebrum is a rather small structure. The ape in this picture shows the largest cerebrum of those illustrated, with the dog showing a much smaller cerebrum in proportion to the rest of the nervous structure. If we compare this with the lizard we see that it is very small. Now compare this to a picture of the human cortex and we see how extraordinarily large it is especially as compared to the animals in the above picture.

The Human Cerebrum 1

What do we mean by instinct? We all have the experience of seeing a fly repeatedly butt its head against a window glass in an attempt to reach the outdoor light. This may happen right next to an open door and yet any attempt to get the fly to move towards the open door and freedom is doomed to failure as the fly eludes our every effort and returns determinedly to its useless head butting behavior. We could say the fly is stupid, but more accurately, this is an example of instinct in which a perceptual/earning process that would over-ride that behavior is not possible.

Does this same instinct operate in larger animals, that is, larger than a fly? Indeed it does and here is an example that shows how that instinctive behavior is hereditary. It is taken from the work of Eugene Marais and his study on the instinctive behavior of termites and other insects.

Studies of the Weaver Bird

There is a bird that forms an extremely intricate nest requiring great skill in assembling the materials. It is called the “weaver bird” for the way it puts the nest together. Here is what it looks like.

Weaver Bird Nest 1

Eugene Marais studied instinct in these birds in a unique way. I quote him directly in what follows.

“Let us return again to the psychology of instinct. I said that the memory which constitutes this instinct is hereditary in the same way that the physical organs of the organism are hereditary. The following experiment which I myself carried out will explain what I mean.

The well-known yellow South African weaver bird, there are many kinds, but any kind may be used for this experiment, plaits a wonderful little nest at the extreme tip of a flexible branch, generally over water. You often see their nests at the end of the thin drooping twigs of the graceful weeping willow, but have you ever taken the trouble of watching to discover how the very first piece of grass is tied to the twig and what kind of knot the little bird uses ? The full-grown bird is a seed eater, but the little ones are fed on worms until it is nearly time for them to leave the nest. Remember these two instinctive memories:

  • How to build the nest, and
  • How to feed the fledglings.

I hatched the eggs of the yellow weaver under canaries, for four generations. The new birds were forced to lay eggs each time without being able to build their characteristic nest. This is the most difficult part of the experiment, but it can be done. Every time these eggs were hatched under canaries, the young ones were fed on a synthetic diet and were never allowed to see a worm or an insect. Nor did they ever see a piece of grass which might be utilized for building. Then I took this fourth generation and provided them with everything which they would need in their normal environment.

Remember now that for four generations they have not seen a plaited nest or tasted a worm. From personal experience the bird cannot possibly know what to do. There can be no question of individual memory. I expected at least that there would occur some deviation from normal behavior, but it was not so. When the time arrived for nesting, the birds began plaiting vigorously. They made more nests than they required. This often happens in nature as a means of protection. The eggs were hatched and the young ones were fed on worms! This experiment shows what I mean by the inherited memory of instinct.”

This little experiment shows how persistent is instinctive memory and also how that memory is not corrupted even though it was not expressed for four generations.

This instinctive behavior can be a disadvantage when there is very dramatic and rapid change in the environment if the rapidity of the change does not allow time for evolutionary adaptation. Here is an example of the inability for individuals to adapt (as opposed to the change in the species) led to extinction of the animals.

Extinction of Springboks

“I also said that the psyche of inherited memories is aforce which cannot be turned aside even by death if escape means behavior which conflicts with the race memory. As an example of this I will tell you about the case of the springboks on the Springbolakte in Waterberg. This lakte or plain is an island of open veld in the middle of the Transvaal bushveld.

The springbok is highly specialized for life on the open plain, in other words all his inherited memory is of open plains. He knows how to escape the perils which threaten him there; he knows which is the best food for him there and how he can find this; he knows when and how to change his quarters. He can see and smell over great distances. On this plain there were, twenty years ago, thousands of springboks. Now they have been exterminated.

Slowly but surely people have crowded there, made farms, fenced off camps, and destroyed the springboks. To the west rose the mountains and to the north lay the endless bushveld, where they would have been absolutely safe. Death lay on the one hand and safety on the other, but they could not take the step which would have saved them. Thousands of other big game, less specialized, fled into the bush and saved themselves from extinction. Often it happened that herds of Springbok were chased by hunters into the bushveld. Always they returned – sometimes the very same day – to meet death on the open plain.”

We see from this last example how instinct is an overriding determinant in behavior. Even when there is danger, an animal dominated by instinct will enter into that danger because it does not have the ability to withstand it, or the ability to reason beyond it.

This is significant because many of the behaviors we are asked to help with are of this type. Some examples that come to mind for me are:


Urinating outside a litter box.

Spraying urine on walls, furniture.

Grooming excessively, to the point of creating lesions.

Attacking new cats (or people) entering the home.

Killing kittens that are not theirs.

Crying out (yowling) in the night or when alone.

Eating cat litter, paper, plastic, indigestibles.

Vomiting foods that are not agreeable.

Refusing to eat or drink when ill.


Suspicion of strangers entering their territory.

Attacking cats and other small animals.

Aggressive behavior to other dogs.

Desire for company.

Digging holes in the yard.

Scratching/digging behavior in the house, on carpeting.

Escaping confinement and wandering about.

Rolling in decayed animals.

Eating stool or drinking urine.

Scratching the ground after a bowel movement.

Understanding that these are instinctual behaviors helps us to realize that, when these behaviors are inappropriate, that some inflammation or irritation in the cerebral cortex is triggering this behavior and it is not voluntary for the animal. It may be possible to inhibit it with another stimulus, fear or distraction or by training (conditioning) that will interfere with the sequence of actions. But this happens not because they have reasoned it out and seen the relationship between cause and effect.

How does this contrast with what is more familiar to us, voluntary behavior? Eugene Marais gives us an excellent comparison in a parallel experiment in which an otter and a baboon were raised artificially and away from their natural conditions.

An Experiment Comparing Instinct With Learned Behavior

“Both baboon and otter were taken away from their mothers shortly after birth. The baboon was reared under our own supervision by a human foster-mother. The baby otter, whose captured mother died from wounds immediately after its birth, was placed among a litter of puppies and accepted by the bitch. Both were carefully kept from all contact with their own kind and all knowledge of their natural environment.

The otter was reared thirty miles from the nearest running stream. The only water supply in the vicinity was in a deep well, and it never, at any one time, saw more water than was necessary to quench its thirst. It never saw a fish or crab and was fed exclusively on raw meat. Then fully grown, it was taken for the first time to a river pool. It ran down to the water, smelled it and drank some. Then it struck the surface two or three times with its paw and immediately plunged in, diving, swimming and ‘playing’ just as a wild otter does. It had not been fed for some considerable time, and within half an hour it had captured a small fish and then a crab.

Our artificially reared baboon came from a district where its natural food supply would have consisted almost exclusively of insects and wild fruit. The wild baboon obtains insects by turning over all big stones in its line of march and is especially fond of the very abundant scorpions. This is a delicacy relished by wild baboons throughout South Africa and they show great ingenuity in catching them. The scorpion is rapidly beaten about with the hand until half-dazed, and is then turned on its back by a flick of the fingers and seized by the legs. In this position it cannot sting. The tail containing the sting and poison sac is carefully removed before eating. I have never seen a wild baboon stung by a scorpion during this process.

Among the wild fruit commonly eaten there are several tempting-looking drupes and berries which are poisonous. Two species of fruitbearing shrubs are remarkable because of the very close resemblance they bear to each other. These are the sandappel or the grysappel and gifblaar. The fruits are very different in colour and size, but the plants themselves can hardly be distinguished from one another. The fruit of the gifblaar is bright red in colour and very tempting in appearance—but the plant secretes a strictuous poison of extreme virulence and the fruit is especially rich in the deadly substance. The fruits of the two plants are far less conspicuously coloured. Both are edible and much esteemed by wild baboons and their human neighbours. I have never seen a wild baboon meddle with a poison plant or attempt to pick a poison fruit. They carefully avoid them. Quite small youngsters seem to know the danger. How the individual acquires this knowledge I am not sure, but not even in their case would I care to suggest purposive maternal tuition.

About the author

Richard H. Pitcairn

Dr. Richard Pitcairn graduated from veterinary school in 1965, from the University of California at Davis, California, and worked on a PhD degree emphasizing the study of viruses, immunology and biochemistry. Working in a mixed practice he saw a wide variety of health problems, but to his disappointment, did not see the results that he expected using the treatments learned in veterinary school. He became interested in alternative medicine, nutrition and homeopathy. He found homeopathy to be intellectually complete and satisfying, and after studying and using it for some 20 plus years, has had remarkable success. Since 1992 he has taught a yearly course, The Professional Course in Veterinary Homeopathy, to train animal doctors in homeopathy.
Dr. Pitcairn was a founding member of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy and also served as its president. With Susan Pitcairn he wrote two editions of Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, a classic in the field, which sold over 350,000 copies.


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