Homeopathy is a methodical, evidence based form of medicine developed by Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) and practiced widely throughout the world today. From its inception homeopathy styled itself as an alternative to the now prevalent allopathic medical model and thrived in many segments of the American population including the upper classes, women, and the churches. Its principles were laid out by Hahnemann and his philosophy is the heart of Homeopathy. After his death students expanded homeopathic theory and enriched the practice. Contemporary homeopathic doctors and lay practitioners still further it and, despite continued attempts by mainstream medicine to discredit it, there appears to be a revival of homeopathic medicine as a viable alternative to allopathic interventions. And now in the 21st century the integration of homeopathy within the larger context of medical intervention finally seems possible.
Hahnemann was born in 1755 in Dresden, Germany and was a dedicated doctor in the medical world of his day. But the more he practiced medicine the more disillusioned he became and so protested the medicine of his times eventually giving it up entirely.
It is important to understand the medical milieu with which Hahnemann became so disenchanted. In Hahnemann’s time there was a growing schism between ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’ doctors. According to Cuellar’s interview with medical historian James C. Whortan (2006, p. 2-8) homeopathy, and the broader category of complementary and alternative medicine, derived from this schism. Embracing complicated philosophical theories of pathology and illness the regulars used such methods as purging, bloodletting, burning, toxic medicines, and other dramatic (sometimes traumatic) techniques often leaving their patients weaker and sicker or dead. The conditions of life contributed to poor public health with pandemics like cholera and yellow fever, unsanitary conditions, industrialization, and ever increasing environmental toxicity.
The irregulars employed techniques to spark the human being’s natural ability to self-heal via a whole person approach including nutrition, exercise, fresh air, and rest. Rising contemporaneously with homeopathy other irregular movements explored techniques based in observation, stimulation of patient vitality, and gentle curative methods that empowered the patient. Mesmerism, although conceived the previous century, was popularized during this period and emphasized manipulation of the vital force and was clearly an influence in Hahnemann’s thought. Also contemporaneous with Homeopathy was Thompsonism, which used botanicals for healing, and Priessnitz’ Hydrotherapy (water therapy) applications.
The split highlighted today between the treatment of disease as opposed to the healing of the whole person is built on the foundation that is the division between homeopathic and allopathic philosophies. Hahnemann himself coined the term allopathic meaning “other than the disease.” The term was intentionally derisive indicating the regulars treatments were meant to evoke reactions different than the disease as opposed to homeopathically, which used treatments like the disease. Roughly a third of Americans were using some form of irregular medicine prior to the discovery of antibiotics and Whortan points out that the irregulars were a political movement who fought for their own licensing against the medical monopoly of the regulars. The irregular schools, led by homeopathy, had their own educational standards and hospitals. Women were welcomed more readily than in the regular schools and homeopathy became a vocation for many female healers aligned with the suffrage movement. Homeopathy resonated with a particularly American attitude of independence and self-help books and home use kits were used by the general populace. It was not until the regular (allopathic) doctors won the public’s trust upon the discovery of biomedicines such as sulfa drugs and antibiotics that they embraced the once derogatory title for their medical philosophy (2006, p. 3).
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