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Homeopaths help people improve their lives and get well. They look at illness differently than conventional doctors do. They view the symptoms of an illness as the body's attempts to heal itself. For example, they see a cough as the body's efforts to rid itself of something that is foreign to the system. Instead of trying to suppress the symptoms, homeopaths search for the underlying cause of the problem. They try to discover the more fundamental reason for the illness. Why was the body susceptible to a cough in the first place?
To homeopaths, people are healthy when their lives are balanced mentally, emotionally, and physically. If any aspect of the patient's life is out of balance, it could lead to illness. A symptom, such as a cough, is just the top layer of a problem, and homeopaths work to peel away all the layers and get to the root of the problem. The goal of homeopathic medicine is not just to cure the ailment, but rather to return the individual to optimum health.
To discover the reasons for an illness, homeopaths begin with a very detailed individual interview. The first interview usually takes at least an hour and may last up to two hours. Homeopathic treatment is based entirely on the individual. Homeopaths believe that every person is unique and that individuals experience the same illness differently. Although two people may complain of a cold, each of them will have unique symptoms and be affected in different ways. The homeopathic practitioner asks questions about every aspect of the individual's life—health symptoms, eating habits, sleeping patterns, reactions to heat and chill, and so on. In order to process all of this information, homeopaths must have good communication and analytical skills and be very attentive to detail. Choosing the right cure depends on understanding every aspect of the individual's situation, not just the illness.
To help guide their research, homeopaths classify people into categories called constitutional types. They determine an individual's constitutional type according to temperament, physical appearance, emotional history, previous ailments, preferences about food, reactions to the weather, and many other traits. Then they search for a constitutional medicine, one that produces symptoms that are most similar to the individual's symptoms.
Homeopathy is based upon the principle that "like cures like," also called the Law of Similars. Dr. Hahnemann observed that a substance that produces the symptoms of an illness when given in a large dose could cure the illness if it were given in a minute dose. The theory is that the small dose stimulates the body's natural healing power to fight off the illness. Hippocrates, the Greek physician who is considered to be the father of medicine, first recognized this principle in 4 B.C. The Law of Similars is also the theory behind some conventional medicines, such as vaccinations and allergy shots.
After determining the individual's constitutional type, homeopaths seek out the substance that is capable of producing the same symptoms that the individual is experiencing. They can spend much of their day at the office studying their notes and researching. They search through books called repertories or use computers to find the right constitutional medicine.
Homeopaths use very small doses of natural medicines to stimulate the body to heal itself. This practice is guided by the Law of the Infinitesimal Dose, another important principle of homeopathic medicine. It states that the more dilute a remedy is, the more powerful it is.
Homeopathic medicines are natural, safe, and effective. They are specially prepared from plant, animal, or mineral extracts. The raw material is dissolved in a mixture of alcohol and water. Then it is diluted several times and shaken vigorously. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes homeopathic remedies as official drugs. It regulates their production, labeling, and distribution just as it does conventional medicines. Homeopathic remedies are collected in an official compendium, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, which was first published in 1894.
After homeopaths choose a remedy, they instruct the individual in its use. This may happen at the end of the initial interview if the person's symptoms point to an obvious cure. Many times, however, homeopaths must spend a long time searching for the remedy that matches the essence of the person's symptoms. When that is the case, they may not give the individual a remedy at the first session. Finding the exact constitutional medicine requires patience, experience, problem-solving ability, and intuition.
The course of treatment depends on the individual's circumstances, symptoms, and prognosis. After a prescribed period of time, the individual generally returns for a follow-up visit. This visit typically lasts from 15 to 45 minutes. During this time, homeopaths look for signs of improvement and sometimes choose a different remedy if the desired result has not been obtained. Usually only one remedy is given at a time because the goal is to stimulate the body's natural defenses with a minimal amount of medicine. Homeopaths tend to discourage frequent visits unless they are medically necessary. The time between visits is usually from one to six months.
Most homeopaths work in private practice, so they must know how to handle paperwork and run a business. Many are health care professionals who are licensed in other medical fields, such as acupuncturists, chiropractors, physicians, naturopaths, nurse practitioners, and osteopaths. Licensed professionals must understand and manage their own malpractice insurance and their patients' insurance claims. More and more insurance policies cover visits to homeopaths who are also licensed health practitioners. If homeopaths are not licensed, insurance will probably not cover their treatments. The use of the computer has become essential to homeopaths. The collected wisdom of centuries of homeopathy is rapidly being made available in computerized databases, and this is an invaluable aid to the arduous research of the homeopath.
Homeopaths believe strongly in the benefits homeopathic care can bring to their patients and to the world. They have the great reward of helping people and seeing them get well. In addition to their practices, many homeopaths are involved in the effort to expand the understanding and acceptance of homeopathy throughout the country. They participate in research and give lectures. Some are involved in politics, fighting for legislation to benefit homeopathy.