Some historians claim that the roots of homeopathy go back to the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, and perhaps even earlier. Homeopathy, as we know it today, however, originated with the work of the German physician, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843).
Homeopathy is a system of medicine that believes that “like cures like.” The materials used in homeopathic formulations can come from plants (herbs), from minerals, or from animal fluids or parts. According to homeopathic theory, a substance called the “mother tincture” can cause a particular symptom, like a fever or high blood pressure, and can cure that same symptom when the substance is taken in homeopathic form.
Moreover, homeopathic theory believes that an infinitesimally small dose of the substance is a powerful curative. Therefore, according to homeopathy, the more the “mother tincture” is diluted, the stronger the healing effect will be. Many homeopathic remedies seem counterintuitive to patients and conventional physicians, however, particularly because of the homeopathic concept that more dilute (rather than more concentrated) formulations provide a more powerful effect.
On the other hand, recent research shows that water as a diluent (i.e., the solution in which a substance is diluted) can "record" the memory of certain substances due to the formation of liquid crystals. Therefore, very dilute preparations of certain natural substances (such as antibodies) may still cause therapeutic effects on the body.
Like acupuncture and magnetism, homeopathy is considered an “energy medicine.” Energy medicines are based on the premise that energy fields are the source of the healing. For example, in acupuncture, the needles are not what cure the patients, rather it is the energy that is created or released in the body by the placement of the needles on specific body points.
In homeopathy, various materials found in nature are believed to contain an energy field that can exert a healing effect on the body. This energy field can be amplified, or “potentiated” by a series of dilutions (called serial dilutions) and vigorous shakings of the homeopathic preparation. The healing power of homeopathic cure is not the substance ingested itself, but rather the energy fields, which are created during the vigorous shaking (called "succussion") involved in the preparation of the homeopathic preparations.
Unlike conventional medicine, which attempts to suppress the symptoms a person is experiencing to eradicate illness, practitioners of homeopathy perceive symptoms as defenses of the body and use these symptoms to determine the kind of remedy the patient needs.
“All living organisms possess the ability to heal themselves,” says Dr. Toni Bark, a classically trained homeopath who runs an integrative clinic, Center for Healing Arts. “Symptoms are just your body’s attempt to achieve a new homeostasis and so what [homeopaths] do is use those symptoms as a guide.”
Homeopathic remedies are prescribed in one of two ways:
Symptomatic homeopathy simply aims to treat the immediate symptoms, such as tooth pain or a runny nose.
Constitutional homeopathy (also called classical homeopathy) requires careful selection and administration of a homeopathic remedy over a period of time. Practitioners of constitutional homeopathy are not looking to fix symptoms, but rather to treat the patent’s predisposition, his or her miasm, to a certain disease. Miasm comes from the Greek word meaning “stain.” Thus, constitutional homeopathy takes a holistic approach. In order to create an individualized treatment, the homeopathic practitioner considers both the patient’s physical condition and his or her emotional state and personal history.
As Dr. Bark observes: “Good homeopathy requires that you delve into what’s going on at the emotional level, even if the patient doesn’t have an emotional problem... . How does this person function in the world? How do they deal with their stress? How do they deal with their anger?”