“I knew that…” – the agonies of unlearning

By Vera Resnick

I knew that…

This is something I and other IHM practitioners often hear, or see on people’s faces when we talk about homoeopathy to homoeopaths. I can feel the thought echoing through the ether (so to speak…) when I write about homoeopathy to homoeopaths.

However, to warp an old idiom, knowing is as knowing does. If you really knew that – why don’t you do that?

Let’s start with the first basic tenet of homoeopathy: like cures like.

Yes, we all know that. But how many do that?

To do “like cures like” a brief string of actions have to take place:
– through experiment find out what changes in health a substance causes in healthy people
– examine what has changed in the health of the patient to get a disease picture
– match the experimental findings of a substance with the disease picture in the patient.

“Like cures like” is a default in nature. A quirk that Hahnemann found a way of making use of to cure people, harnessing many substances, even poisons, through dilution and succussion and enabling them to be used without risk of harm or side effects. Hahnemann discovered this through experimentation, not through theorizing, communing with spirits, or meditation. He was a chemist and a trained, experienced physician for heaven’s sake.

“I knew that…” I hear impatient voices of many readers. Well if you knew that – why aren’t you doing it?

Examine the books on your shelves (real or digital). Do you even possess books of Hahnemann’s provings? How often have you looked at a proving? Do you even know how to study a proving and make the most of it in prescribing?

With all due respect – a materia medica compiled by a practitioner, however interesting, is not a proving. A treatise on personalities assigned, very interestingly, to different remedies, is not a proving. And if you’re looking for constitutional remedies in preference to looking for what has changed and what substance is capable of making those changes – well perhaps you knew that like cures like but you’re certainly not doing it.

Let’s take another one: The way to individualise the disease state in the patient is to investigate modalities.

“I knew that…”

Really? Then how is it possible that a homoeopath who teaches in a school tells me she always gives the same remedy in anxiety from anticipation, as she finds it works with all patients? And this is someone who just prior to this revelation, informed me with great sarcasm “I knew that..” when I presented the issue of modalities?

I asked “Of course you ask whether the patient is hot or cold during anxiety? Whether he perspires? Needs to sit? To stand? To go to the bathroom? What helps calm him?”
Ms. I- Knew-That replied with a closed-mouth smile and curt nod. It was obvious that she had asked none of these questions.

Quite a few years ago, I read a case-taking by a homoeopath with many years of experience, one who has taught many students. I really enjoy seeing cases well-taken and am happy to learn – homoeopathy is not an easy profession, even though many elements of the work itself are fairly straightforward. So everything helpful is welcome.

In an anxiety case, the patient described how he felt cold with anxiety and couldn’t sleep. The case-taking then proceeded to focus on his anxieties and fears, his emotional picture, his relationships with his family, his siblings, his own psyche, and his fear of dogs. There was nary a mention of better for… worse for… hardly any reference to causation and no discussion of what had changed. Fear of dogs led to another lengthy riff of questions and answers regarding fears, dreams and personality traits. Superiority and inferiority complexes. How the patient got on with women. I must admit, it was all rather disappointing.

With all her seniority and experience – can this homoeopath really be said to know how to individualize a case?

I began using Boenninghausen’s Therapeutic Pocketbook fairly early on in my work. Fortunately for me (although it didn’t feel like that at the time) my computer together with my homoeopathic software was stolen and it took a while to replace. I was left with Synthesis and Allen’s version of the Therapeutic Pocketbook, together with various therapeutic and other materia medica. Although I had trained using the book version of the Synthesis, I found in practical work it was both unwieldy and unhelpful. The various materia medica books I had were also surprisingly unhelpful in practice – especially those “therapeutic” books which promised that certain remedies will help for certain situations. I began to study Boenninghausen and provings, and the rest is history.

But I still had to unlearn my Kentian training. To overcome the Kentian reflex of looking for the simple substance, the one constitutional which will unravel the entire case. It took a good year or two of working with P&W’s Therapeutic Pocketbook software, practicing and consulting (mainly with Gary Weaver) on the application of the method. When I began to study and practice using Boenninghausen and the Therapeutic Pocketbook, I was convinced it shouldn’t take longer than a few months, as the process and principles seemed fairly simple to apply . However, Gary mentioned at the outset that it could take a year or two, because of the unlearning required, rather than the learning itself.

Although the steps are clear, the prejudices about remedies and constitutionals resulting from Kentian or any kind of essence training are so deeply ingrained that it is necessary first to become aware that they are in play, however much a practitioner may genuinely want to work differently. This is all the more difficult, paradoxically perhaps, for those practitioners who are clear-sighted enough to want to change the way they work after many years of Kentian-et-al. experience.

The process of unlearning is a strange one. Rather than accept received knowledge passed down through teachers, working with the Therapeutic Pocketbook and provings and working closely based on Hahnemann’s instructions in the Organon means for the most part opening your eyes and your mind. It means learning to observe closely so that you can trust your observations. Becoming aware of your own prejudices regarding remedies and symptoms. Learning to listen to the patient and clarify his symptoms rather than guessing and elaborating on an uncertain mental state or changes that you think have occurred… Learning never, ever to speculate… Learning to give priority to what has changed, whether mental or physical, and so much more.

In a seminar I gave several years ago, one homoeopath asked “if it’s so simple, why aren’t all homoeopaths working this way?”

Why indeed…

Probably because they all knew that…

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