Homeopathy is an exquisitely subtle system of medicine, sometimes classified as "energy medicine," which was developed by the German Samuel Hahnemann in the 1800s, and imported to America, before the Civil War. Today, homeopathy is better known outside the bounds of the U.S. The British royal family, for example, practices it; it's extremely popular in India, etc. And internationally, organizations like the World Health Organization have good things to say about it. In America, it's been pretty much marginalized since its heyday in the 1800s, as part of what was known as the Popular Health Movement. But the same things that made it of interest then are still compelling today: it's safe, nontoxic, no side effects, and eminently affordable. It can also be self-prescribed. And it's readily available in natural food stores like Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Puget Consumers' Co-op, and also online. A vial of homeopathic sugar pellets, manufactured by a leading brand like Boiron (little blue tubes) costs about $6-8. And specifically to our interest here, various homeopathic remedies hold promise for treating some of the symptoms of PTSD, at least according to the homeopaths.
Because you're probably unclear on what homeopathy is or how it works, it might make some sense to sit down with one of the books written by homeopaths for a lay reading public. Two good ones come to mind: The Family Health Guide to Homeopathy, by Dr. Barry Rose; and/or The Complete Guide to Homeopathy: The Principles of Practice and Treatment, by Dr. Andrew Lockie and Dr. Nicola Geddes. If you're interested in an in-depth explanation of how homeopathy came to the U.S., was summarily trounced by the nascent American Medical Association ("AMA") which was created to put homeopathy and homeopaths out of business, read the fascinating account of that in Andrew Weil, M.D.'s "Health and Healing." I won't go into details here, because it's a little hard to grasp at first blush anyway; but suffice it to say it's a fascinating system, with very little cost or downside. And if it were to be able to help resolve some of the symptoms of PTSD, that would be progress indeed.
A little background on homeopathy as a system:
"Homeopathy has proven to be a potent and effective system for healing individuals because individualizing each case is the essence to its methodology." -- Dr. Harry van der Zee, homeopath.
"Homeopathy is a system of medical treatment which looks at the whole person, not just the illness from which he or she is suffering," writes Dr. Barry Rose, in "The Family Health Guide to Homeopathy. World-famous violin virtuoso and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, a longtime fan of homeopathy himself, wrote the foreword to that book, and in it he writes:
"The efficacy of homeopathic remedies perplexes many people who are used to the ways of orthodox medicine. Instead of suppressing symptoms, and thus allowing the possibility of their recurring, homeopathy gets to the root cause, removing symptoms in the order in which they appeared, and thus paves the way for a complete cure. Indeed, sufferers from chronic (health) complaints ... can, with time and patience, be returned to full health."
"In the current age of technology, where so much of modern medicine seems to depend on harsh drugs and surgery, natural and gentle alternatives can arouse skepticism. However, there is no medical practice as benign and safe as homeopathy. As a musician, what I particularly love about it is the great effect of subtlety -- the enormous response to an infinitesimal but crucial intervention. Too long have we put our faith in quantity and massive attack. It is high time humanity learned the extreme value of the minute and the minimal (that is homeopathy)." -- Lord Yehudi Menuhin, foreword to "The Family Health Guide to Homeopathy," by Dr. Barry Rose, Fellow and Executive Dean, Faculty of Homeopathy, Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (UK).
Andrew Weil, M.D., in "Health and Healing," introduces homeopathy by first talking about the "conversion" of a personal friend, an allopathic (conventionally-trained) physician who ultimately rejects his training in favor of becoming a homeopath. "In this course," Weil writes, "he followed in the path of most of the homeopaths in history; most have been M.D.'s who rejected the methods they first learned, then studied the theory and practice of homeopathy as apprentices to established practitioners..." Weil continues:
"My friend told me he was much more successful in treating people since his conversion; he was also much happier, had better rapport with patients, and for the first time in his life really enjoyed practicing medicine. He felt he was able to stimulate genuine healing in sick people, whereas before he just suppressed symptoms, often by plying patients with toxic drugs and using other methods he now considered more harmful than beneficial."
The arc of homeopathy's influence in America is relatively easy to trace. It initially enjoyed some popularity, then was quickly squashed by the efforts of the nascent American Medical Association, today's all-powerful AMA, which apparently came into existence to suppress it. It later disintegrated as a movement, and only today is beginning to see a slight resurgence -- while it did manage to retain its popularity in many parts of the world outside the U.S., including the U.K., Eastern Europe, and India.
For the historical background, again we go to Weil (and we're compressing quite a bit even here):
"The seeds of homeopathy fell on particularly fertile soil in America. The first homeopathic physician arrived in the United States in 1828. Eight years later, the Hahnemann Medical College opened in Philadelphia. An American Institute of Homeopathy, founded in 1844, became the first national medical society. Most significant, American homeopaths did much better than allopaths (conventionally-trained M.D.'s) in treating victims of cholera epidemics that swept through the Midwest at the end of the 1840s. Their success brought them prestige and money and encouraged widespread desertions from the ranks of orthodox practitioners. By 1850 another homeopathic medical college had opened in Cleveland."
Homeopathy's "disciples were meticulous observers of the most basic injunction on doctors: primum non nocere -- first, do no harm. With their minute doses of remedies, they could not possibly make patients worse. Early homeopaths were aglow with the zeal of new converts. They had a comprehensive theory of health, disease and treatment, based in experimental research and handed down by a master. They were concerned with patients as individuals. They aimed to cure disease from within, at its source, not just suppress symptoms. Best of all, their method worked, even for the gravest infectious diseases." "Homeopathy," he wrote, was establishing " a firm foothold in the New World."
"What followed, predictably, was a desperate struggle by the allopaths to regain their lost prestige and control. Then ensued a long and bitter war between allopaths and homeopaths that was fought in every city and town, in virtually every hospital across America." The roots of the American Medical Association, today's all-powerful AMA, are found, Weil writes, in its creation in 1846 literally to oppose homeopathy. "From the start," Weil says, "the AMA was militant and exclusive. In 1855, it demanded that all state medical societies ... expel any homeopathic members. It also worked to gain control of city hospitals and boards of health, threatening boycotts of hospitals if homeopaths got privileges at them. During the Civil War, it was able to prevent homeopaths from enlisting in the Army Medical Corps." In 1878, he writes, "A Connecticut physician was expelled from his county medical society for consulting with his wife, who happened to be a homeopath." "The ruthlessness of organized allopathy," he says, "was quickly successful."
If today we're beginning to see a little tepid enthusiasm bubbling up again for this fascinating, subtle energy medicine, Weil concludes, it may be because some of the same frustrations are drawing consumers to it now as generations ago. "American homeopathy is now having a modest resurgence," he writes. "Some serious M.D.'s, like my friend ... have converted to homeopathy in the traditional way, after losing faith in allopathic medicine."
"If homeopathy makes a comeback in the Western world," he concludes, it will happen because attitudes similar to those prevalent during the Popular Health Movement (of the 1800s, when homeopathy enjoyed its American heyday) are again on the rise. In the last quarter of this (the 20th) century, the technological dream that supported allopathy has begun to fade. Dissatisfaction with regular medicine grows year by year in every sector of society, with the same three complaints voiced over and over: it has become too expensive, too dangerous, and not effective enough at treating the diseases that really matter... Modern hospital medicine looks more and more "heroic" in its reliance on invasive procedures that depend on elaborate technology and seem to ignore or deny the body's own healing powers."
I was hoping to learn more about who has been using homeopathy, historically, to treat PTSD, and I had hoped in particular to learn about its use in the Civil War. I figured the timing was perfect: it had just established its presence in the United States before the Civil War broke out. However, once I re-read Weil I realized that the AMA had virtually squashed homeopathy by then, and in fact had forbade homeopathic physicians from joining the war effort. By World War I, though, homeopathy was on the rebound, at least in Europe, and performing duties in the war. I'm still hoping to learn more about those efforts, but in the meantime, I've come across a few current sources about war trauma, PTSD and the use of homeopathy.
Outside the bounds of the U.S., for example in India, homeopathy has continued to flourish, in part because it's an affordable system of medicine within reach of individuals in an impoverished country. One Indian homeopath, writing on the Web, discusses potential remedies for PTSD, after a catastrophic event like the bombings in Mumbai (not quite our 9/11, but similar). He suggests a number of possible remedies, based on individuals' constitutions, including: "Aurum metallicum, Ignatia amara, Natrum muriaticum, Phosphoric acid, Sepia, Staphysagria; also, Arsenicum album, Causticum, Calc. carb, Nitric acid, Nux vomica, Pulsatilla, Thuja, etc." For more information look to his site, linked here. (Individual symptomology would help indicate which remedy would make the most sense, as he explains in his article.)
The British homeopath Peter Chappell, who co-founded the Society of Homeopaths in the U.K., and has worked with infectious disease in Africa, wrote a book specifically about homeopathy and trauma, "Emotional Healing with Homeopathy: Treating the Effects of Trauma." He describes how homeopathy can get to the root cause of a long-term illness or predicament, like trauma, when he writes:
"In this book, I write a lot about the patterns behind suffering...When a situation becomes too overwhelming for us to process, the trauma is stored up inside us. I believe that many of our dysfunctions ultimately stem from our being traumatized and not being able to process it at the time or later. For example, if someone close to us dies unexpectedly, we need to grieve; but if we cannot cry because we have forgotten how, we will start hurting. If we later develop (other) symptoms...we may well not connect them with the stuck grief. This kind of cause and effect, however, are like the 'rule' in understanding health; they follow each other like clockwork. Whenever anyone becomes ill, other than from some obvious contagious disease like measles, it is very useful to question what was going on before it happened -- a year or a week or just a minute before." -- "Emotional Healing with Homeopathy: Treating the Effects of Trauma," by Peter Chappell.
To give you a specific example of how homeopathy works, one of the remedies Chappell proposes for PTSD, depending on the symptoms, is "Aconite." Here are some of the descriptors from his rubric for it, and it will remind you, undoubtedly, of symptoms you've heard from various combat veterans:
"Aconite" -- sudden shock (9/11). "Shock is the keyword. Fear and fright from shock are very strong here, the strongest fears of all the homeopathic types. Great panic and fear of death, that they will die this minute. Great shock from seeing an accident or hearing about the sudden death of someone known to them. Not terror or fear, which is more [another remedy]. Flashbacks are possible but are also considered [another remedy]. Tremendous problems with fear and fright, bad news. Also, anger with anxiety, fright and silent grieving. They can be upset by over-excitement and excessive joy. Humiliation and hurrying also upset them. A chill or a very cold dry wind, forms of sudden shock, can make them instantly ill. The likely cause is birth trauma. It's not for shock with injury -- see [another remedy.]"
Because homeopathy is "individualized medicine," who are the types of individuals who might respond well to aconite? Chappell describes:
"Vital, vigorous, extrovert, robust people who are yet exquisitely sensitive to mental shock. ... They act as if death is imminent. ... Strong panic attacks, especially if triggered by a similar event to the original shock. Palpitations."
Typically, in homeopathy, if there are a dozen possible remedies for something like PTSD, each remedy is keyed most to certain characteristics of certain individuals. Reasoning from that, individuals can investigate which remedies might have value for them; or by visiting a homeopath, the clinician can take a history of the patient, and prescribe his or her best choices. It's interesting, of course, or as others might say, "elegant," as a system -- because as people experience trauma differently, they may respond to potential remedies differently as well.
To add one more layer of esoterica to this whole discussion, a homeopathic physician like Harry van der Zee, who practices in war-torn countries like Rwanda, which have experienced genocide, and where the population is therefore traumatized as a whole, has experimented with coming up with remedies that seem to treat the common denominator of trauma. In a very interesting, thought-provoking article, linked here, he describes his findings. It would be fascinating to see if what he's found would be of value also to veterans who suffer from PTSD, and have found their symptoms to be intractable otherwise. Homeopathy, so simple, elegant and subtle -- and so poorly understood -- might hold a key to healing when other treatments fail; or might prepare the ground for other treatments to succeed. In either case, it's worth at least considering.