Barbara Roberts, Homeopath

Homeopathy and the Placebo Effect

Homeopathy is often dismissed as a placebo effect. My short and pithy answer to that is that it works for babies and animals who don’t know what a placebo effect is. Despite that, I want to actually discuss that and though why we cannot rule it out entirely, it can not be responsible for all the improvements we see homeopathically.

The placebo effect basically says that by seeking help from a health professional, and taking a drug/herb/other treatment, a certain number of people (15-70%) will get better by using a placebo treatment ie without using the actual drug/remedy but by taking an inert lactose or sugar tablet instead. It’s not a self delusion either, these people have real and measurable changes in their physiology.

You can see the parallels already – homeopathy being often sucrose pilules or lactose tablets and prepared in a way that the labs of today can find no measurable remedy. Sure, this is because we do not have the technology yet to see what anyone who has used Homeopathy knows is there, but it is still an area that Homeopathy is attacked on.

I choose to find it intensely flattering that skeptics say that it is being in my presence that is healing, but there is definitely something cathartic about visiting a Homeopath. The initial consultation for an adult is an hour and a half – and I spend that time listening to you. Sure I ask questions, but we talk through not only the complaint that has brought you to me, but your life history and how that makes you feel and react. There are no wrong answers, and no judgement for anything you do tell me. I am not trying to fit you into a box or put a label on you – just get the information about what makes you you, so I can find the remedy most similar to what is going on for you at the time.

For some people, who have been through a mainstream medical model, and been told over and over that what they instinctively know happened is wrong, just being listened to and believed is going to be healing on some level. However it doesn’t explain all the effects that we see in Homeopathy.

In fact one of my favourite things is when unexpected healing takes place – the things that I’m not told about which suddenly resolve after a remedy. I certainly had not told them they would be fixed with homeopathy, because I was not even aware there was a problem. Here is one example of that:

A long time ago I had an acute consult for a burn on a woman’s hand. This burn was intensely painful, and she wanted to keep it under cold running water all the time- as soon as she pulled it out it was excruciating. I prescribed Cantharis and she took a dose, which meant she could pull her hand out of the water, and she repeated it a couple of times. The burn healed fast and with no complications. When I saw her again she told me that the remedy had also fixed her umbilical hernia – since the birth of her son a few years ago (I forget exactly how long) she had had an “outie”, her belly button had never gone back to her pre pregnancy “innie” state. It was not something I was aware of and certainly when prescribing Cantharis for a burn I never would have considered it!

Skeptics, who do not “believe” in Homeopathy also have positive results from remedies, and many Homeopaths studied after their own experience which could not be explained rationally as anything other than the effectiveness of Homeopathy.

We cannot fail to mention the effect in babies and animals, who have no placebo response. Chamomilla for ear pain or teething which is excruciating, but stops after 1-2 doses and they fall asleep is a great example of this.

A while back I was getting very frustrated with my cat who had been weeing all over the house. Then one day I heard a screech and raced down to the laundry to find my cat frozen on the step outside, she hadn’t even made it through the cat door. The neighbours cat was stalking closer, and then I noticed she had lost control of her bladder, a slow growing puddle through the fur of her belly and spreading. I shooed the other cat away, brought her inside, used a damp nappy to wash her fur, and gave her a dose of Gelsemium- which was interesting because my cat that usually happily drinks out of a glass was refusing to drink. It rapidly relieved the nervousness she was showing, but much to my delight it has also stopped her weeing around the house.

We have 200 years of case reports that show Homeopathy is effective (and I’ll rant another day on evidence based medicine and the hierarchy of evidence), but if people prefer to think that it is being in my presence that is effective, I’ll take that compliment too 😉

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