By Todd Rowe MD, MD(H), CCH, DHt
There has been an explosion of interest in alternative medicine in the last ten years. The public has embraced the usage of alternative medicine and are seeking out practitioners. A study was done in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993 which showed that one-third of Americans routinely used alternative medicine, paying for it out-of-pocket to an average of $600-$700 per year. A recent update to this study showed this figure is now up to 40% with 90% of these individuals not telling their physicians of this practice. Americans now spend nearly one trillion dollars on alternative medicine and wellness per year.
The budget of the Office of Alternative Medicine of the National Institute of Health has tripled in the last seven years to $20 million in 2001. There is a tremendous increase in the number of alternative medicine books in the book stores, nationwide, and some are on the best seller list (ie. Dr. Andrew Weil). Thirty four of the nation’s medical schools have added alternative medicine to their curricula. Many prominent hospitals are now offering alternative medicine programs to their treatments.
Homeopathy is thought to be the fastest growing form of alternative medicine in the world today and the third most common. It is well represented and popular in countries all around the world. What attracts many is its low relative cost. The cost to patients for homeopathic treatment is generally much less than that of conventional medicine. Increasingly, its students are finding it to be a solid and satisfying career choice. Most medically-trained homeopathic practitioners find that they can make a salary equivalent to their allopathic colleagues in private practice.
In the homeopathic field, there is tremendous need. There are few homeopaths and the demand is far larger than the supply. In India for example, the number of homeopaths per capita is at least 100 times that of the United States. Alternative medicine and homeopathy are also extremely popular in today’s health care climate. Increasingly people are unsatisfied with conventional health care and are looking to alternative medicine.
Third party payers (insurance companies) increasingly are offering plans in alternative medicine. For example, AARP recently began to offer alternative medicine discounts to its members. Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield cover homeopathic services. In 1996, Washington state required all health insurers to add coverage of alternative treatments to the coverage of standard medical care.
Levels of Practice
There are many levels of student involvement in homeopathy. Students often begin at the first level and gradually progress from one stage to another over time. This progression for some is smooth while others stop at certain stages for years before progressing on to the next. Others are happy to stay at one stage and never move on. Some students find it hard to stop once they embark on their homeopathic journey.
There are students who contact homeopathy or begin training and then drop out, realizing that homeopathy is not right for them. There can be many reasons for this, but ultimately there proves to be a lack of resonance between homeopathy and their nature.
These individuals may develop a deep appreciation for what homeopathy is, but have no wish to study it further. Homeopathy can enliven their work and leave them changed. They may refer friends, family and patients to homeopathy, embark on homeopathic treatment themselves or work with someone who does practice homeopathy.
This level of practice involves the casual usage of homeopathy. This can be learned in a few hours of self study or a weekend course. The usage of remedies is mostly focused on first aid prescribing. Examples include the usage of Arnica montana after trauma or Aconite napellus for shock.
This level applies to both home care and medically licensed practitioners. In simple home care, the practitioner is generally treating friends and family. For the medical practitioner, their work is primarily focused on their original field of study, but there is a wish to experiment with homeopathy.
This level of practice is focused on acute prescribing. The practitioner can learn this level of prescribing in a typical 40 hour course or more serious self study. An example would be using remedies such as Pulsatilla nigrans, Belladonna, Aconitum nappelus, or Mercurius vivus in the treatment of otitis media (ear infections).
The home practitioner uses a home remedy kit to treat friends and family. The medically-licensed practitioner uses remedies to treat simple acute conditions, while reserving conventional medicine for more serious conditions, or referring to a more skilled homeopathic practitioner.
This level involves a deeper level of commitment to homeopathy.
The practitioner learns more “constitutional” prescribing in a 100-250 hour course. The prescriber learns a limited number of "constitutional remedies" that can be used in the treatment of deeper chronic conditions. This generally cannot be learned by simple self study, but requires a more intensive training program (whether in a classroom or by distance learning). An example of treatment at this stage is the usage of the remedy Natrum muriaticum in the cure of a patient whose syndrome of illness includes chronic migraine headaches, constipation, intermittent herpetic infections, and a tendency toward depression.
For the non-medically licensed practitioner, this stage involves integrating homeopathic practice with their other work. For the medically licensed practitioner, the third stage involves the deeper integration of conventional and homeopathic practice. At times, the practitioner may elect to pursue one modality of treatment vs. another or to combine them . The mixing of practices can lead to confusion for some practitioners. More serious cases need supervision by an experienced homeopath or should be referred. The key is always knowing one's limits. Some practitioners find it very difficult to integrate their practices and experience a need to move on to the next level (homeopathic practitioner) as a consequence.
Homeopathic training in naturopathic schools is at this level. For medical doctors and osteopathic doctors at this level of involvement, it is possible to become licensed to practice homeopathy in certain states (Arizona, Connecticut and Nevada). Licensure as a homeopathic physician is not required for a MD/DO to practice homeopathy in other states. Reimbursement at this stage from insurance companies for homeopathic treatment is also possible.
The last level involves a deeper level of integration and commitment. One’s identity at this stage becomes that of a homeopath. The study of classical homeopathy is every bit as complex as that of conventional medicine. Practitioners who are serious about the practice of homeopathy generally require a minimum of 500 didactic hours, although homeopathy is more accurately a lifetime of study. Distance learning courses are insufficient in themselves at this level without accompanying clinical training. An example of this level of practice would be the usage of the remedy Stramonium in the cure of a child with attention deficit disorder, night terrors, rage attacks and Tourette's disorder.
Practitioners may elect to practice only homeopathy at this stage or to have a more deeply integrated practice. Some practitioners choose to separate their practices to avoid confusion. What differentiates these practitioners from integrative practitioners is a much deeper level of commitment to homeopathy and a well-established identity as a homeopath.
At this stage, certification becomes possible. Entering the homeopathic community becomes increasingly important and helps the practitioner to become a member of the homeopathic profession and to avoid isolation.
Learning homeopathy is difficult. It is a complex field, every bit as difficult to master as conventional medicine or acupuncture. It fully engages one’s being, rather than simply the intellect. There are levels of learning and some students elect to stop after reaching a certain degree of proficiency in their training.
Learning is a verb. It is active and hard work. Effective learning does not come from passive absorption. It is necessary to wrestle with everything that one is exposed to. It requires the focusing of attention, and active listening. Learning must be integrated with what one already knows. Only in this way is knowledge given “roots”. It also means opening oneself to new ideas, to one’s patients and to the world.
About the Writer
Todd Rowe MD(H) is a homeopathic physician and psychiatrist practicing in Phoenix, Arizona. Author of many books on homeopathic medicine, he is the president of the American Medical College of Homeopathy (www.AMCofH.org).