Student Diaries – Amanda
||Amanda first became interested in homeopathy following successful treatment for her own health issues, which had not responded to mainstream medicine. Homeopathy literally changed Amanda’s life, her health and her outlook on the world, which is one of the reasons why she decided to train as a homeopath. Amanda is married, with two young children, so has to manage her time between looking after the needs of her family, and developing her knowledge and understanding of homeopathy. She starts case taking under supervision, from October 2016 onwards.
“Our college work is piling up right now, and the pressure is on….”
Our college work is piling up right now, and the pressure is on. Most of our assignments have to be submitted within a three month period, and although I’ve done my best to be organised and work on things in advance, I can’t help but have a last minute panic. It means that my focus has to be on this rather than on my practice, so I am seeing fewer patients than normal, and not doing anything to try to recruit new ones.
Shortly before the college weekend we are given feedback on the two case studies that we submitted in February, and I am amazed and delighted by my marks. I’ve done far better than I expected, especially on a particularly difficult case where I thought my justification for the treatment method I chose was not nearly robust enough. By the time the feedback comes I have already finished writing up my other three cases, but as I give them one final proofread I make a few last minute tweaks, and hope that I do as well on these.
I have spent most of my month working on my business plan, and what a worthwhile process it has been. Through doing some detailed research I discovered that my target market is even bigger than I thought – I live in a rapidly gentrifying area of London with a far higher proportion of 25 – 40 year olds than the rest of the country, and a far higher birth rate as a result. I also discovered that in my own postcode area and the neighbouring one, there are no actively practicing homeopaths. Amazing! What an opportunity this presents. By the time I’ve finished I feel really positive about how well things might turn out for me.
It is a serious and intense weekend at college this month, with a half-day session about oncology, and another half a day about palliative care. It’s pretty heavy stuff, but essential of course. Because my practice will be aimed so much at babies, young children, and their parents, I wonder to what extent I will be working in palliative care. Of course I will end up seeing all sorts of patients over the course of my career, though, and I’m aware that it will be both humbling and a huge privilege to work with someone at this stage of life.
On a far less emotional note, we also have a double lecture on practice building. We’ve all started thinking about this already because of the business plan assignment, but it’s good to be given some more ideas. The other thing it gives me is confidence. I am still reluctant to go public about my career change, and whilst I have finally started telling people when it comes up in conversation, I am a long way from declaring it on social media. I know that this will be the biggest barrier for me to overcome, if I am to run a successful practice and earn a decent living. Hearing about how others have faced this problem is hugely encouraging, and bit by bit my confidence grows.
We are also briefed on our final exam – a viva. I know that several of the fourth years failed it last year, so I am already a bit worried. I’m a fairly confident communicator (what I mean is that I talk a lot) and I work hard to prepare well for exams, but the brief for this one is intimidating. I discuss it with my supervisor who gives me some good pointers about the importance of researching it, being pragmatic and using common sense, and imagining that we really are in the scenario that we’ve been given, and how we would respond in real life. Now my main problem is time. It’s the school Easter holidays, I don’t have any childcare, my husband works all the hours, and I have an assignment to submit too. I know that I’ve got a hard month ahead. I am braced and ready and up for the challenge, though, because I know this is the final push, the last thing we have to do before we graduate.
“The next college weekend seems to come around quickly, and begins with a lecture on ‘vaccinosis’….”
The next college weekend seems to come around quickly, and begins with a lecture on ‘vaccinosis’. The term was originally coined by Burnett, and is now widely used by homeopaths to describe the ill effects of a vaccination. I’ve been keen to have this lecture – not because it’s an area I have an especially strong interest in, but because it is so very controversial. I’m in a 1,500 strong Facebook group for parents in my local area, and a mother recently asked what people’s opinions were on the safety of vaccines. I was horrified at how overwhelmingly, and aggressively, she was shot down in flames for even asking the question. Popular opinion was very much that there were no safety issues, that the NHS would never advocate any vaccine that might damage health, and that she would be incredibly selfish for not vaccinating her children because of the value of herd immunity. I spent a day toying with the idea of wading into the debate, not even with an anti-vaccine opinion, but with some links to research documenting the ill effects of vaccines, to provide some balance. In the end I decided against it, partly because I’m not thick skinned enough to be unaffected by the vitriol I’d inevitably be faced with.
The whole thing made me see that if I am to discuss vaccines with patients then I need to become an expert on both sides of the debate myself. I have strong feelings about always treating others with kindness and I was upset by the comments I read, but I do understand why it is such an emotive topic. Every parent wants their child to be healthy and safe, and of course it is much more comfortable to believe that there is no risk, particularly for those with young children who are going through the vaccination programme.
The lecturer begins by telling us about the vaccine court system and how it operates, and then goes on to tell us his protocol for supporting babies and children through the vaccination process. It is useful to have such tangible, practical tools to help our patients. We briefly discuss how to deal with vaccinosis, but we have already learned about tautopathy, and of course we are well versed in other methods. One important thing to add to my list of things to do after graduation is to research this area, to fully arm myself with all the information.
Other lectures during the weekend are a refresher on Syphilinum and how it relates to other miasms and remedies, different treatment approaches for allergies, and skin pathologies. We also make a start on oncology, obviously a huge topic that will be spread over several lectures.
On the Sunday we have a double lecture about eczema, which includes the management of eczema cases, as well as remedies. It feels so beneficial to have this type of practical advice, and having had two eczema cases already (one easy, one incredibly difficult!) I can see how the approach we take needs to be specific.
The weekend finishes with a double lecture called ‘Cycles of Practice’. I have no idea what to expect from this, and it blows my mind. We start off by hearing about two cases our lecturer had – one where things went horribly wrong (although not really his fault), and one where he felt that he handled a potentially fatal case appropriately. He then uses these examples to illustrate the various emotional/ developmental stages that homeopathic practitioners go through. The experienced homeopaths in the room (who are there doing a top-up course) can relate to it, and I can already recognise myself very much in the early stages of the cycle. I feel quite overwhelmed by it all. When I set out on this path I had no idea that it would involve such intensely personal emotional development. I thought I was just signing up to a career change. It strikes me that perhaps this actually is the reason I came to it, though. I head home feeling quite emotional, and with a shifting perspective on my role as a homeopath, and on my place in the world.
I am brought back to earth with a bump the following week when we are briefed on our next assignment via webinar. We are being tasked with writing a full business plan, complete with financial forecasting. Although facing the reality of my future income makes me anxious (will there ever be any?!), I am so pleased that we are made to do this as part of our course. Apparently the majority of people who train as homeopaths don’t go on to set up in business afterwards, and although I personally am determined to make it work, I can see why. The assignment challenges us to examine our company vision, our USP, the demographic structure of our market, and operational details. I’m glad to have enough of a business background for this to seem like a familiar and relatively undaunting task. Before I begin, I need to spend a day checking and proofreading my case study assignments, and finally submit them all. They’ve been a huge – and very time consuming – labour of love, and although I’ve learned a lot by writing them, I am delighted to finish.
“It’s the start of another year, and what a big one it’s going to be….”
It’s the start of another year, and what a big one it’s going to be. Only 6 months until I (hopefully!) graduate from college, and begin the new life I’ve been dreaming of. I am terrified, for so many reasons. What if I don’t feel ready by the time I finish, and still have too much left to learn? What if I discover I can’t make a living from it, and all this time and money and effort is wasted? Will I hate practicing, and feel lonely, and isolated, and overwhelmed? Will I be a terrible homeopath? I feel so comfortable with the process of learning, but far less confident about putting it all into practice.
I realise that I need to change my focus and my perspective, and begin to work on building my practice now, or at least on planning how I will. Thankfully I had a lovely break over Christmas, and I start the year feeling energised and full of clarity and focus. Being back at college couldn’t come soon enough, which makes me realise how important having a homeopathic community is for my emotional wellbeing. It completely goes against my nature to swim against the tide like this, and I need back up. Students often work in one of the homeopathic pharmacies soon after graduating, prescribing for acute illness over the phone and helping to process orders. Our lecturers say it’s a great way to build confidence, and for me I think it would have the added benefit of making me feel less isolated. I add it to my plan, and aim to find a part-time role in September when my youngest child starts full time school.
We start the weekend with a double lecture about childbirth and postpartum, an area I’m particularly interested in. As well as learning about using homeopathy to treat some of the issues that might arise, we also have a discussion about the much wider context of treating pregnant women. Our lecturer gives us some brilliant practice building ideas, including running sessions with pregnant women and their partners on how to use homeopathy during labour, and hiring out childbirth kits. It’s good timing, and I add this to my mental list of things to do once I’m in practice.
For the rest of the day we learn about skin, which is far less complicated than some areas of anatomy and physiology, and also about some remedies from the New Materia Medica. One of them is Iron pyrite, which leads to a broader discussion about radiation, and the frequency with which we are exposed to it in every day life. It is enlightening but also terrifying, and makes me miss my days of living in happy ignorance. Doing this course has gradually changed my whole perspective on life, and on how ignorant we are as a community about our health and wellbeing. Of course it is always best to have the information, and I’m so grateful that I do, but I feel like I live a different existence to my friends and family as a result.
The next morning we finish learning about Chinese Medical Diagnosis, which is both fascinating, and mercifully much less alarming. I’ve always been interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and have been doing Qi Gong for years, so I already know a bit about it. It’s heartening to see how closely it links to homeopathy, and as well as giving us a more in depth way to analyse a case, also provides us with some useful new diagnostic tools.
The weekend finishes with a double lecture about the Triad Method, and how we might use it. It’s a practical lecture where we work through some cases and analyse them together. It’s harder than I expected, but such an excellent way to learn. Our own homeopath uses the method sometimes and I’ve seen it work amazingly well on my children, so I’m keen for it to be part of my practice. The approach makes total sense to me, and I can see how in many cases it would be a brilliantly practical and efficient way to treat a patient.
The day after college I need to go shopping, and I stop for lunch in a café. As I sit there reading a book about homeopathy and autism, another diner leans over and asks me what it is. Her 4 year old son has ASD, and we have a conversation about how homeopathy can help. She asks for my business card and I kick myself for not having one yet, but I give her my phone number and hope that something comes of it. If nothing else, it’s a confidence boost to have someone be genuinely interested, and to see how it’s possible to meet new patients in very every day situations. I’m not always very articulate or confident when I explain homeopathy, because I get flustered and defensive, but I’m delighted with how this discussion went.
The following weekend I have my last ever student clinic, and it feels amazing. I have my second appointment with my patient, and I’m delighted when she chooses to come and see me privately for her next appointment, rather than see another homeopath at the clinic. I’m struck by how similar we are, and I think I really understand her. We have already developed a great rapport. By the end of the day I’m a bit sad because the clinics have been so valuable – and often enjoyable – but I’m seeing plenty of patients privately now, and it’ll be great to have more time for that. I’m also sad to be leaving the building at Neal’s Yard, because I suspect that I might never practice anywhere quite so lovely! But I set off for home embracing the closing of this chapter and the new possibilities that lie ahead.
“I’ve had another busy month with patients, and suddenly everything is falling into place….”
I’ve had another busy month with patients, and suddenly everything is falling into place. In one supervision session I have four follow-ups to discuss, and each patient has seen big improvements, in exactly the way we would hope to see, in line with the remedies they are taking. One of them is a child with particularly stubborn eczema who I’ve been treating for some time, and after months of only minimal changes and frequent regressions we see a significant breakthrough. I’m on a roll and it feels great, but I know real life practice won’t always be like this, so I’m careful to not let this short-term success turn into arrogance!
Through seeing all these patients I am starting to build up a fairly comprehensive homeopathic pharmacy. I’ve been ordering medicating potencies and the necessary supplies, and making up the remedies myself. At the moment – while I’m only charging student rates and paying for regular supervision – it seems expensive, but I’m already getting to the point where I have many of the polycrests in several potencies, so I often have what my patients need in stock without having to place a new order. I have considered buying a remedy machine, because of how convenient it would be to make any remedy in any potency in seconds. I know that they’re controversial, though, and even though my own homeopath uses one and frequently gets great results on all my family, I can’t help but remain a bit skeptical. So I have decided to stick with medicating potencies for now. Aside from anything else, I find there is something pleasingly witch like about making my own remedies. I enjoy the process and ceremony of it, and I like the neat little rows of labeled bottles.
The college weekend begins with an OSPE assessment, which stands for Objective Structured Practical Examination. We are given two patient scenarios, and we have to answer questions about what we would do in the given situations. One scenario is a patient with a long term condition who wants to come off her medication, and we are asked how we would manage the case, particularly with regards to timescales and aggravation of symptoms. The other is to assess a patient’s reaction to a remedy, in the context of the aetiology and history of his complaint. Unlike most exams it’s a difficult one to prepare for, but that makes me feel far less nervous than I typically would be, and it seems to go OK. It is hard to tell, though, because it is so very different to everything that we’ve done before.
There are some excellent lectures this weekend, including a double session on Sankaran. The Sensation Method is something I’ve frequently heard of, but I’ve never been sure how it works. I find it difficult to understand, and even when I’ve got my head around it I can’t help but think that it’s an unnecessary over complication. Homeopathy is such a brilliantly simple concept, and there’s already such an excellent way to find the right remedy, that I wonder why we need a different option. I can really see how it’s a useful way to become more familiar with the Materia Medica, though, because there are far too many remedies to stand a chance of remembering them all. I like the idea of understanding a case in terms of its broad themes, and how this relates to groups of remedies. I’m going to trust that I don’t yet have enough experience to appreciate the rest of it, and that I’ll learn in good time!
Later that day we have another double lecture about Chinese Medical Diagnosis. I have a loose understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) already, from having done Qi Kung for many years, and from having asked lots of questions during a course of acupuncture. The links between homeopathy and TCM have come up several times in other lectures, and it’s great to have the chance to explore them properly. We start to look at the functions of different organs in TCM (energetic, of course, rather than literal) and the role they play in maintaining a healthy body, and there are some clear links between the two systems of medicine.
We also have another double lecture about diabetes, and the complexities around treating a patient with this sort of medical condition. We discuss how to manage the case alongside the medical pathway that the patient will inevitably be on, and get given some useful tips about symptoms to look out for, and how to identify ‘red flags’.
On the Sunday of the college weekend the entire class go out for a lovely meal to celebrate Christmas. For the first time this year I am full of festive spirit, not least because it is snowing heavily, and we are all delighted that the exam is over and that a break is approaching. I am so grateful to be part of such a lovely class, and I hope that we find ways to stay in contact and support each other in the years to come. We have both a nurse and a dentist in our class, and having them share their knowledge and perspective really enriches the learning process. It’s a lovely way to end the year.
“With two college weekends in October and one in November, the academic year is back in full swing….”
With two college weekends in October and one in November, the academic year is back in full swing. We have been briefed on the five case studies that we have to write up, and on an exam that we sit in December. I found out that I did very well in my June end of term exam, which is gratifying after all the hard work I did. It’s not time to ease off yet, though.
When I initially looked at the assessment calendar for this year I thought it looked quite easy, but I’ve learned the hard way that my blasé attitude was ill informed! The case study assignments are time consuming, with each one consisting of three consecutive appointments, and everything we say having to be analysed, justified, and referenced. I learn so much from writing them, though, and all that research sometimes gives me an interesting new perspective. I find myself getting into a panic about how little time there is, and how much work, and end up sitting at my desk for every available minute. The prospect of pre-Christmas socialising rapidly goes out the window, but that’s made bearable by the knowledge that this is my final year of study, and that life will be more manageable by the summer.
The student clinics are going well too, and they are almost over for me. We have to do 150 hours in total, and because I’ve only missed one – when we were all ill last winter – I’m on target to finish when I should. I’ll miss them. Not necessarily the opportunity to see patients because I’m doing a lot of that on my own, but the group analysis and discussions that take place with the clinician have been an invaluable learning opportunity. The process of watching live cases unfold triggers discussions that we would never have otherwise, and we pick up all sorts of interesting insights and useful tips. That said, the weight of the commitment is hard right now and is taking its toll on family life, so I am relieved they are coming to an end.
On a lighter note, it is time to start planning our graduation party. Apparently they are typically big, impressive affairs, with funds being contributed by various industry organisations in exchange for advertising in the graduation brochure. Of course everyone has different opinions on what the important criteria are, but we are a friendly and cooperative group, and I’m sure we’ll end up with a party that everyone enjoys. It’s a lovely reward to work towards.
There are some excellent sessions at college this weekend. We start off with a double lecture about miasms and the depth of their action. I’m unsure what to expect, because by this point it’s a subject we are already well versed in, but it turns out to be hugely useful. We discuss some case studies where the miasmatic influence has been strong and clear, and others where it is much less obvious. We talk about how the miasms are connected to each other, and what patterns we might typically see both for each one individually, and in terms of how one might move into another. By the end I understand them so much better, and have a real insight into how they behave in real life, rather than just knowing a list of key symptoms.
Next up is ‘The Imponderables’. To me that always sounds more like a movie about a group of unlikely action heroes, than a group of remedies. It’s fun to learn about Sol, Luna, and Electricitas. As is always the case with the more esoteric side of homeopathy it stretches the boundaries of my belief – mostly because of the way the remedies are made – but as someone who is genetically designed to not be exposed to much sunlight I’ve used Sol Brittanica myself, and I know how effective it is.
Another double lecture is on the immune system, which I’ve been looking forward to, but struggle to understand. It is so complex, and so technical, and also a subject the experts themselves are still very much learning about, that I hardly stand a chance. By the end I’m pretty sure that I’ve got to grips with the basics at least, but it’s a subject that I’ll need to do some more reading on. Seeing patients with real and often complex medical conditions has made me see how important it is to understand the biology behind the symptoms. I hate to not totally understand every aspect of what I’m working on, and when my job involves real life patients and their health and wellbeing, this feels crucial. I’m trying to balance that with the acceptance that I can’t know everything, though, and to accept that being a working homeopath will be a lifelong learning process.
Perhaps the most significant lecture of the weekend is ‘The Curability of Tumours’. Not just cancerous ones, of course, but those too. Cancer is such a controversial area, protected by specific laws around what we can and can’t say, and surrounded by some very strong opinions. It’s helpful to learn that there are some clear protocols (in this session we mostly focus on Burnett’s approach), as well as some significant success stories. We are told that the vast majority of people who consult a homeopath with cancer are ones for whom all other avenues have been exhausted, and try this as a last ditch attempt. I’m still very nervous about treating cancer for the first time, but at least I am equipped with some useful tools now.
We finish the weekend with a lovely double lecture about pregnancy, which is a topic I’m familiar with. I know most of the main remedies well already, but we discuss some of the much smaller ones and how they can be useful in various conditions like morning sickness and threatened miscarriage. I haven’t had any pregnant patients yet, but I’m currently treating someone for infertility, so if all goes to plan I’ll have one on my books in the very near future!
“I’ve always been a big fan of autumn, and not just because of the hearty stews and cosy jumpers….”
I’ve always been a big fan of autumn, and not just because of the hearty stews and cosy jumpers. The start of the school year brings with it such fond memories of new beginnings and fresh opportunities, and this one feels particularly significant. My final year at college, and only 9 months until graduation. In one way I feel ready – I want more time to see patients, which is fast becoming my primary focus, but in another way I am terrified about losing the security of student life. I know that I’ve still got a lot left to learn, and ten college weekends doesn’t feel like enough time to learn it all.
Having a break over the summer has been amazing, and I see in hindsight how desperately I needed it. Having some time and some space has given me the opportunity to think more about the sort of practitioner I’d like to be. My first homeopath – who treated me, and then my family too, for twelve years – is retired now, but I still often think of her. She was a huge inspiration. The treatment she gave me had a life changing impact, and you can’t help but form a strong bond with someone who has facilitated that. She struck a perfect balance between being kind and compassionate but never too sympathetic, and not afraid to challenge me when I needed it. I’m not a particularly gentle person and I’ve always worried this means I won’t be a good homeopath. But she wasn’t either, and she was amazing. She looked very similar to me, which I only understood the homeopathic significance of once I began studying. Now I see that she was just the right sort of person for me, and I’m starting to trust that I’ll attract a certain sort of patient in turn. I find myself trying to channel her spirit when I’m with patients, and I know that if I can ever be even half as brilliant as she was then I’ll be happy.
Lovely as it is to have some time to think over the summer, it’s almost impossible to actually DO anything because I have my children with me, and we inevitably end up with a hectic schedule of socialising and long days out. By the end of the summer I start to panic about not having had any new patients for a while, but as September rolls around I get a flurry of interest both from new patients, and returning ones. I end up booking three first appointments and one follow up for the same week, which obviously isn’t much for an experienced homeopath, but for me it is. I still spend time writing up notes and analysing each case, and then of course have to discuss them with my supervisor, and my youngest daughter is still only at nursery for two days. It feels like a hectic reintroduction to work.
My new cases are varied, and they test me in different ways. One of my patients is the father of the children I’ve been seeing at my student clinic, and is the first man I’ve ever treated. He looks just like his 4 year old, and learning about his health complaints gives an interesting bit of background perspective to his son’s case. Another patient is an acquaintance of mine who is coming for secondary infertility. I think I already know her well enough to understand the case, but what she tells me about her childhood is intensely traumatic, and changes my perspective. By the end of the week I feel utterly drained, and I am surprised to find myself bursting into tears when I go through all the cases with my supervisor. Some of what I’ve heard this week has been a little bit too close to home, but I also haven’t allowed any time or space for myself, and I am emotionally drained. I think a lot about the need to protect myself, and how to avoid burning out.
Luckily, one of the sessions at the first college weekend focuses on just this. I think that what we discuss has mostly been covered already, but my understanding of it is so different now that I have first hand experience of seeing patients. I come away with a list of practical tips about setting boundaries and minimizing stress, and implement many of them the very next day.
Being back at college feels great. I’m glad to see my friends, and we also have lots of new people in our group, doing a ‘top-up’ course. Nearly all of them are qualified homeopaths running successful practices, and having their perspective and expertise in the room is brilliant. I’ve missed learning.
It is a mixed weekend, with a few of the lectures reiterating things we have already learnt. One of the lecturers is ill so a session on Tautopathy, which I’d been really looking forward to, gets postponed. Another session is about the Kingdoms, and we start off with Jan Scholten’s work on the periodic table. It’s a fascinating theory, and I’m disappointed when we run out of time before we get the chance to discuss how we might actually implement it in practice. We also have a lecture about our graduation cases – I have to write up five of them this year, each one with three appointments. I’m fairly organised and keep good notes, but there is still a lot of work to be done. In hindsight, I can see how the history and philosophy that we’ve been taught from the beginning is directly relevant to the treatment of real live patients. Being able to apply the theories of Hahnemann and Kent to the progression of the cases I’m analysing enables me to understand what’s happening, and to decide on and justify the next steps. The academic and practical aspects of my course are really coming together, now.
I buy several new books online and at the college book sale, and end the weekend with a huge reading list. It feels like I am very much back on the treadmill now, and I’m determined to get as much learning out of this year as I can, while I still have the chance.
“My first month of no college, which of course equals no assignments, and life feels very different….”
My first month of no college, which of course equals no assignments, and life feels very different. I already miss it though, and in many ways I feel quite sad that there is only one year left. My classmates and I are spread far and wide geographically, and we have begun to discuss ways to stay connected once we’ve graduated. Working independently suits me, but I’m well aware that I’ll always need my little homeopathic family as back up. Doing the course together is a bonding experience, and I know that I’ll always want these wonderful people to be part of my life. Thank goodness for social media and the internet age.
I start my month of trying to recruit new patients slowly and cautiously. After advertising on a Facebook group for parents in my local area I have one response, and book her in for the following week. It’s the first time I’ve seen a patient in my own home – previous appointments have always been by Skype or at their house – and I feel a bit apprehensive. I give the living room a once over with the hoover, hide the toys away, and have a much needed tidy. Once I’m done I realise that my home is actually a lovely, calming space, and when my patient arrives I feel able to give her a really appropriate welcome. It is without a doubt my best case taking so far, and I’m sure this is because I feel so comfortable, and so in control of the situation. Hosting her in my own space somehow enables me to give my patient the space that she needs. She seems very relaxed, and the conversation flows naturally. It’s an interesting case, not least because she was bought up in Germany where homeopathy is widely used, and has had homeopathic treatment on and off through her life. When I discuss it with my supervisor she describes it as a ‘truly classical case’, and it really is. There is one unique, presenting complaint, with a clear aetiology, and no medication, medical history, organ weakness, or history of vaccinosis to complicate it. Her vital force is strong. I prescribe accordingly – in a truly classical manner – and hope that she responds in a truly classical way!
In the same week I also see another new patient, this time the son of a friend of mine, and I have follow up appointments with four others. It feels great to be busy, and I love seeing how each case evolves. Sometimes a patient responds in the way I would predict, and other times what comes up is much less expected. Perhaps the main thing I’ve learned from seeing my own patients is that homeopathic treatment is so often a journey, and not always a linear one. Because of this I’m starting to understand how important it is to discuss the patient’s treatment plan with them, and to explain a bit about homeopathy and the ways in which it works.
This is particularly the case with one of my favourite patients, whose presenting complaint was an unusual chronic allergic skin condition that her GP had given up on. It completely disappeared within two weeks of starting her remedies (amazing!), and then came back a bit, but went away again after a different remedy (still fairly amazing!), and then after several weeks returned, with a whole new problem alongside it (much less amazing!). I felt demoralised at first, especially because it wasn’t clear why this was happening, but on discussing it with my (very definitely amazing) supervisor we agreed on a credible and likely theory, and a clear treatment plan. My concern was that my patient would be demoralised too, especially after such an encouraging start, but on explaining what I thought was happening and why, she completely understood that it was part of the process, and was keen to carry on. I hadn’t thought much about this before, but I’ve learned that the role of a homeopath is so much more than just prescribing the right remedy.
Although there is no college through the summer the student clinics continue, and it’s nice to maintain this connection with my course. The brother and sister who I saw last month return, and I think I’ve build up an excellent relationship with their mother now. It’s hard to assess whether there’s been any remedy reaction in the boy, because he’s on so much medication that most of his symptoms are heavily suppressed anyway. It’s an interesting example of the sort of challenge that I’ll face as a practicing homeopath, because so many people are heavily medicated these days. We decide to move forward with a miasmatic treatment, and to continue with the remedy he’s already been taking, because it is such a close match. It’s a good day at clinic, with some really interesting cases and some lively debates.
The following morning my family and I head off for our first trip of the summer – camping with some of the families of my eldest daughter’s school friends. She hasn’t been there for as long as the other kids, so my husband and I don’t know the parents very well. Several times during the holiday I’m asked what I do for a living, and I find myself confidently and proudly replying that I’m a homeopath. What a change from nine months ago! I end up having a fascinating chat with one mum who is a psychotherapist and energy healer, I meet another who is a midwife who offers to recommend me to her clients, and another who asks to book an appointment. We all have a gorgeous time together in a wet muddy field, and I come home filled with hope that despite all the attempts to shut homeopathy down, I might just be able to make a successful living from it.
“Aaaaaaaaaah, relax! The big exam is finally done, the academic year is over…”
Aaaaaaaaaand, relax! The big exam is finally done, the academic year is over, and the long summer break lies ahead. My monthly student clinics continue, and of course I’ll still be seeing my private patients, but for now I have a much needed break from the academic work. What a relief. It’s been an amazing year in which I’ve learned and grown and changed more than in any of the others, but what we were told about the third year of our course being the hardest is definitely true.
The last few months have been especially demanding, with assignments being submitted in close succession with no let up, and our exam as the grand finale. I was utterly drained by the end, and I overdid the revision, and developed bad insomnia (good sleep doesn’t come naturally to me, so it’s always the first thing to go in times of stress). My plan to ease up a bit and accept that just a pass would be good enough for this one didn’t work out! I was so tired by the big day that I forgot a lot of the information that I’d known earlier in the week, but I’m confident that I did fairly well, and I am mostly just delighted that it is over. My desire to do well and to prove myself often outweighs my instinct for self preservation, a thought that needs some reflection over the summer break.
The rest of the college weekend passes in a bit of a blur, and I struggle to be as focused and present as I typically am. Our long suffering Anatomy & Physiology lecturer gets us for a double session straight after the exam, and the topic is heart pathologies. I find it more interesting and also much easier to get to grips with than some of the other areas of A&P, probably because heart disease is something that we as a society are all very much aware of. She tells us that from the 4th year we will start to include a discussion of homeopathic remedies in the pathology lectures, which we are so pleased to hear. At this stage in our learning it feels right for everything to start to come together, in preparation for us becoming fully-fledged practitioners in only one year’s time.
After that we watch a video case, where the patient is initially seen by a student, and then by our lecturer. It is fascinating, and the difference between the two styles is marked. It leads to a discussion about the need to be authentic and natural when taking a case, and not be too closely tied to working through a pre-determined list of questions. I understand how important it is to be instinctive and relaxed, but it is so hard when nerves get in the way. I guess this comes with experience, though. The information that our lecturer solicits from the patient is so much more in-depth, and also so very essential to the case, compared to what we knew after the initial questions were asked by the student. One thing that is missing from my course is the opportunity to watch a qualified, experienced homeopath take cases, and so I decide to try to arrange this for myself over the summer. It’s a big ask of course, because having an observer in the room immediately changes the dynamic, but worth a try! I am aware that I have so much to learn from my more experienced colleagues.
The next day starts with a lecture about Radium and Plutonium, two remedies which I knew nothing about, and which I leave the lecture feeling a bit scared of! They are fascinating, but I think I would only ever use them if I was absolutely certain that they were the right choice, and then with caution. After this we head out for a much needed class lunch to celebrate the end of the year, as well as the upcoming wedding of one of my lovely classmates.
We finish off with a lecture about writing up our case assignments which is incredibly useful, not least because we have to do five of them in our 4th year. Managing to recruit enough patients, who all have three appointments each, feels like the biggest challenge this will pose! Recruiting patients has very much taken a back seat while my college work has been so intense, so it’s at the top of my agenda for the next few weeks. I’ve already planned how to try to drum up some more business, and my husband (a graphic designer, which is proving to be useful!) has made me a leaflet, complete with my own logo for when I set up my website, so distributing that in local cafes and community centres is top of my list.
We get given our feedback and grades on our three assignments over the weekend, and I am amazed and delighted by how well I’ve done. I was a fairly average student at university and I’m getting much better grades now, so it feels reassuringly like I’ve chosen the right path. I love the academic side of my course and I love to learn, and I will miss it once I’ve graduated. It feels like a long way off, but I’ve already identified a couple of post graduate courses that I’d like to do as part of my CPD (continuing professional development, which all practitioners are required to do).
I have my student clinic the following weekend, and it feels good to fully focus on the practical side of things again. I have a 2 year old patient with mild eczema in for her third appointment, and this time I am also seeing her older brother, who has a history of chronic chest infections, gastro-intestinal reflux, and a heart murmur. They arrive with their grandma as well as their mum, so with my student observer we have six people in a tiny and very hot room for nearly two hours. It is hard work but the children cope amazingly, and I’m pleased with myself for having the foresight to take a bag of toys with me. It’s an interesting case, and the first patient I’ve had who has been on lots of allopathic medications, which really influences the approach we take. One remedy stands out as being perfect for him, so I prescribe it in low potency and look forward to seeing how he does.
The next day I feel like I’m coming down with something, but eventually realise that I am just utterly and deeply exhausted. The last few months have finally caught up with me. I am due to see a new patient on the Monday but she cancels, and I am hugely relieved. I need this week to focus on myself and on my family, before I have the emotional or mental capacity to be able to help anyone else. I’m usually really careful with money but I decide to treat myself to a much needed massage, and to let myself turn a blind eye to all the jobs that I’ve neglected in the house and garden, until next week at least. What a year it’s been, and finally I have some time to quietly reflect on what a different life it will lead to.
“The month begins with the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths (ARH) annual conference…”
“It is never too late to be what you might have been” – George Eliot
The month begins with the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths (ARH) annual conference, which I attend for the first time. I arrive alone and suddenly feel very shy. That’s not something I experience often! I have no idea what to expect, and I know no one. I remember the 21 year old me – starting out in a new career and desperately trying to fit in without knowing how, and always feeling unfeasibly tall and socially awkward as a result. I entered into this new life as a homeopath with such enthusiasm that I didn’t consider how daunting this aspect of it might be. I’ve left behind a successful career in which I had proved myself and was comfortable in a senior role. I was well known and well respected, as well as hugely confident, and now I am the new kid on the block starting at the bottom again. It leaves me feeling both childlike and far too old, all at the same time!
The conference begins, and it dawns on me that although I know no one, in a way I really am among friends. It is the first time that I’ve ever been surrounded by homeopaths, and it feels good. It is reassuring to see what a solid community there is, and to know that support is available. The room is buzzing with conversation, and I can see that it’s a tight knit group. The talks are diverse and enlightening, with some really interesting questions from the audience, and a range of interesting stalls to browse during the breaks. I eventually recover from my shyness and introduce myself to a few of the others, and it feels like a welcome first step into my new world.
This month has been fairly quiet as far as my private patients are concerned, and I won’t actively try to recruit any new ones until my exams are over in June. I’ve had a couple of follow up appointments and it’s good to see some steady improvements. I’m sad that this area has to take a back seat for a while, but I just don’t have the capacity to do everything I’d like to right now.
I have a lot of college work this month, and feel distinctly overwhelmed. As well as finishing off and submitting two assignments that I’ve been working on for a while, I also have a level 6 Anatomy and Physiology (A&P) essay that I am struggling with. Of course I totally understand how important it is to have a sound understanding of A&P, but I am not a natural. I spend three full precious work days researching it, and I still haven’t yet put pen to paper. I start to dream about it, and I have the term ‘DNA methylation’ on constant repeat in my head, despite not really understanding what it is. I worry I am losing my mind, and I realise this is what my friends in the year above meant when they said the 3rd year is hard. It really, really is. I manage to get the other two (much easier) assignments submitted, and then there is nowhere left to hide. I force myself to start writing something, and aim for a Buddhist-like acceptance of its imperfections. I’ll do my best, and I’ll just have to hope that it’s good enough. Shortly before the college weekend I get my grade and feedback for the previous A&P assignment, and I discover that I’ve got a first for it. A first! Me! It was so alien to anything I’ve written before and I had no real idea what was expected. I’m thrilled to have done so well, and it’s a huge and much needed confidence boost for me.
The weekend begins, and we learn about endocrine system pathologies, heart pathologies, and at the end of the day we get briefed on our June Materia Medica exam. Everything is coming thick and fast now, and I can barely keep up. The exam is in four weeks time, I still haven’t finished my A&P essay, my head is spinning, and I haven’t had a conversation with my husband for at least a month. Still, at least the Materia Medica is an area I feel comfortable with, so I just need to get my head down and focus, and try to take in as much as I can. This is the final push for this academic year, and I’m already dreaming of my summer holidays.
There’s also a session on septicemia, which starts with a discussion about the rapid increase of antibiotic resistance. Our lecturer believes that this may well be the way in which homeopathy has its much needed resurgence, because the remedies that we have for septic conditions are so very effective. I have a huge and hopefully irrational fear of my children getting septicemia, so it’s empowering to know exactly how to help them, or anyone else, should the need ever arise.
The Sunday is an excellent day with three of my favourite lecturers. We learn in detail about remedies for the menopause, and finish off doing men’s issues in the morning, and then after lunch it’s time for some work on The Organon. I read the entire book when I started my course and found it difficult to take most of it in. I’m struck by how much sense it makes to me now that I understand homeopathic philosophy, and it’s a good marker of how much I’ve learned. We finish off the day with some more case-work, and then it’s time to head home for another hard month. I’m relishing having such a strong work focus in my life for the first time since leaving my job a few years ago, and it’s hugely satisfying to be learning so much. I am exhausted, but I feel so utterly privileged to be doing what I love that it’s easy to plough on, especially now the end is in sight.
“This month begins with a day at the student clinic…”
A Blackbird Singing by R.S. Thomas
It seems wrong that out of this bird,
Black, bold, a suggestion of dark
Places about it, there yet should come
Such rich music, as though the notes’
Ore were changed to a rare metal
At one touch of that bright bill.
You have heard it often, alone at your desk
In a green April, your mind drawn
Away from its work by sweet disturbance
Of the mild evening outside your room.
A slow singer, but loading each phrase
With history’s overtones, love, joy
And grief learned by his dark tribe
In other orchards and passed on
Instinctively as they are now,
But fresh always with new tears.
This month begins with a day at the student clinic, and I arrive full of the joys of spring and ready for a new patient. Unfortunately there aren’t enough of them to go round today, so I only get to observe. It strikes me how quickly I’ve gone from being utterly daunted by the thought of case taking, to being utterly deflated when I don’t get to do it. It’s starting to feel natural now, and I’ve also begun to hope for difficult cases that will challenge me, rather than straightforward, easy ones.
It’s in interesting day in the clinic anyway, with several complex cases to discuss, and a big and very vocal discussion group upstairs. The young child with a global developmental delay who we saw last month has undergone some visible improvements, but unfortunately the mother thinks there is no change, and seems aggrieved. It sparks an interesting discussion, and we learn how common it is. Our clinician suggests several ways of managing situations like this, and we discuss how important it is to set the expectations of our patients and their parents.
The following week I have follow up appointments with two of my patients, and they both go well. The first reports that her osteo-arthritis pain has improved significantly after a month of Rhus tox, and my patient with the complicated skin complaint has responded to her remedies better than I ever hoped. After only ten days she experienced a complete and total elimination of her itching and skin rash, despite it being severe and fairly long standing. I am delighted, and revel in what a ‘quick win’ it was! Unfortunately since stopping the remedies the condition had come back very slightly, so I prescribe the same remedy in a higher potency in the hope that we can achieve a lasting cure this time.
This patient is so wowed by the rapid and dramatic improvements that she books an appointment for her 15 year old daughter too. It’s the first time I’ve treated a teenager, and I’m both nervous and really looking forward to it. It’s such a volatile and transformational time of life, when people change and develop and learn so much about themselves. The session goes well, and by the end I think I’ve won her trust. She is mature for her age, and answers my questions openly and confidently. I feel very fond of her, and hope that I am able to help her both with her presenting condition, and her nerves about her upcoming exams.
The college weekend seems to roll around quickly, and it looks like a great one. I’m particularly keen for the lecture on meditative provings and new remedies. It’s an area I know little about, and as someone who is naturally pragmatic and practical, it pushes the boundaries of my belief somewhat! The lecturer is a bit of a hero of mine, though, and the whole session is utterly fascinating. I can feel my mind opening to a whole new world. I’ve never been a spiritual person and I know little about things like astrology and chakras, but they often come up at college, and I feel ready to explore further. We are told of how a famous homeopath who was dying of cancer woke to the song of a blackbird one morning, and decided it had to be made as a remedy. It leads to a long discussion about how one bottles blackbird song (by leaving a vial of ethanol on a window sill near to where one is singing, it turns out!). My initial reaction is one of incredulity, but I understand that homeopathy works within the realm of physics rather than chemistry, and that it’s about the energy rather than the substance. This is a great example of that difference. It’s a long way from Hahnemann’s careful methods of trituration and succession of the original substance, but I think I get it. I also love the romance of it – I adore bird song, and agree that of course there ought to be a way to capture it and be healed by it. My mind is well and truly expanded, a wonderful way to start the weekend.
The rest of the sessions range from learning about the endocrine system and it’s pathologies, to the menopause, LM prescribing, and the Kali family of remedies. We have a session about being the ‘unprejudiced observer’ and what this means, as well as how best we can do it. Everyone in the class shares anecdotes from their own recent experiences with patients, and we have a thoughtful discussion about difficult situations that might arise. One shift I’ve noticed in myself recently is a growing awareness that everyone is on their own unique journey, and no one’s life is easy. It sounds so obvious, but it’s too easy to forget this in every day life. I’ve noticed a growing ability to connect with my patients as a result, and it feels like an important point on my journey to becoming a practitioner.
One thing that comes up twice today is the notion of a seven year cycle, and how this conducts the rhythm of our lives. Both my eldest daughter and I are entering a new phase soon, so this feels like a good place to begin my journey of discovery into a more spiritual world. I vow to keep an open mind, whilst holding on to a healthy sense of skepticism. One thing I know for sure is that my children and I all sleep terribly during a full moon, so it can’t be that much of a stretch to factor in the other planets too! My patients deserve the best treatment I can give them, and it’s becoming clear that this means looking outside of the realm of homeopathy, as well as doing all I can to become an expert there too.
“They say that if March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb…”
“Here was my city, immense, overpowering, flooded with energy and light… And there was I, breasting the March wind, drinking in the city and sky, both vast, yet both contained within me, transmitting through me the great mysterious will that had made them and the promise of the new day that was still to come. The world at that moment opened before me, challenging me, beckoning me, raising all my energies by its own vivid promise to a higher pitch. In that sudden revelation of power and beauty I trod the narrow, resilient boards of the footway with a new confidence.”
Lewis Mumford, 1917.
They say that if March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb. The adage is about the weather, of course, but it’s always struck me that nothing ignites the fire in one’s belly and the passion in one’s heart quite like these early days of Spring. My lamb-like wanderings at the start of this month have well and truly been replaced by a lioness’s stride, and I feel ready to take on the world.
March has been a busy month of fascinating new patients, challenging old ones, plenty of work on a couple of ongoing assignments, and an excellent college weekend. It has also seen an horrific terrorist attack on my beloved home city, the sort of event that makes one take a step back and reevaluate life with a new perspective. I try to explain it to my innocent six year old, and she cannot understand why or how someone would be motivated to act in that way. I struggle to find the words to answer, and to avoid a conversation about the complexities of world politics and religious/political beliefs for which she is probably still too young, we talk about the famous Edmund Burke quote – “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. She understands the importance of living our lives in a way we truly believe in, and I am left feeling privileged to have the luxury to do this.
Of course none of this directly relates to my training, but it gets me thinking about the bigger picture of what I’m doing and why. I gave up on my dream of world peace a long time ago, but what motivates me is still the desire to improve people’s lives. It also gets me thinking about the role that homeopathy might play in the world in future. With a growing anti vaccine movement, antibiotics failing to work in many situations, the emergence of new and unknown diseases, and, closer to home, the dismantling of our NHS, it feels like we are potentially on the brink of something new and exciting. I hope so, and what a thrill to think I could be part of it, doing what I truly believe in.
Amongst all these flighty ideals and strident beliefs, I find that seeing my patients does an excellent job of bringing me back down to earth. Although I am still nervous when I take a case, especially for the first time, I find that I am gradually able to be calmer and more present. I think I’m starting to create the right sort of therapeutic space for the patient to feel truly held.
I start by seeing a new patient about a skin complaint. It is by far the most unusual, complicated, and difficult case I’ve had so far, and it is fascinating. With a lot of guidance from my supervisor I spend hours analysing the case, refining the repertorisation, and evaluating a number of remedies, and by the end I have learned a huge amount. I desperately hope that her prescription works. I love the academic part of our course, and of course it’s essential, but I increasingly realise that some things can only be learned in practice, and I’m so glad to be getting this experience while I’m still studying.
One of my ongoing patients is the daughter of a close friend of mine and it’s a complicated case to manage, as young children often are. She is responding to the remedy (which was strongly indicated), but it’s not holding, and she experiences some uncomfortable aggravations as her body detoxes. I prescribe a nosode and the response is encouraging, but as she is about to take the next remedy she falls ill with a feverish virus, and we have to put the treatment on hold. Thinking about the case starts to keep me awake at night, and on reflection I realise that I am far too emotionally involved. Her two older siblings have had several surgeries each, and this course of treatment is a last ditch attempt to avoid my patient having a small operation herself. I am desperate for it to work, both for her sake and for her mother, and as a result I am far from being the independent observer. I think it’s inevitable that as students we start off treating our friends and family, but it’s a difficult road to navigate, and I can see how treating strangers is far less complicated.
We have an excellent timetable at college this month, and as an added bonus we are not being briefed on any new assignments or exams. We continue to learn about The Metals, and although I know it’s essential information, I find that I am becoming less interested in these lectures. At this stage it feels so much more relevant to learn about how to practice, about different techniques or methods, and about broader themes, rather than specific details. Still, I know we will be examined on it soon so I make sure I take excellent notes! One of the remedies on the timetable – Thymus, a sarcode made from the thymus gland – is taught to us in the context of a whole technique in it’s own right. We learn about how to use it as part of a triad of remedies to enable patients to access their, or their ancestral, history of trauma. The concepts discussed are far more spiritual than anything we are typically taught, and it is in equal parts both utterly enlightening and mind blowing, and maybe a step too far for me!
On Sunday of the weekend it is so nice to have a full day of female lecturers. I am a passionate feminist at the moment (that’ll be the lioness), but it has always disheartened me that even in this female dominated profession, the positions of authority and power are still mostly held by men. How disappointing that a community based on the need to see each person as a unique individual still contains such retrograde divisions and hierarchy. Today’s lecturers are all awe-inspiringly strong, the ultimate experts in their field, and entirely without ego, and I come away feeling truly inspired. We learn about how to treat teenagers (hilarious, although I’m sure I won’t find it so funny when my own kids reach that age!), how to design a research project (brain-achingly difficult), and ‘The Art of Homeopathy’. It is the perfect point in the course to have this lecture, because we’ve now all got enough experience of seeing patients to have come across a few stumbling blocks. We do a role-play which I usually hate, but it provides some useful practice at dealing with challenging questions, and it’s interesting to see how differently we all handle the same situation. By the end of the lesson I’ve written down a long list of helpful hints and tips on how to navigate difficult situations and on how to practice homeopathy successfully. I‘m not quite there yet, but with such amazing guidance I think I’m well on my way!
In respectful memory of the victims of the London terror attack March 2017. You can make a donation to support the families of the victims here: http://about.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/categories/emergencies/westminster-attack
“The last month has been completely dominated by revision…”
The last month has been completely dominated by revision. Our Materia Medica exam is first thing on the Saturday morning, and the week leading up to it is half-term, so my last minute study time is limited. I realise how much I prefer essays and assignments to exams, because there is a definite point at which I’ve finished and can stop working on them. Revision, however, infinitely expands to fill the time available, and I never feel like I’ve done enough. It’s not helped by my tired and ailing brain, which somehow has far less capacity to retain information since the birth of my children. I’m sure there’s a remedy for that, but right now I don’t have time to look it up!
Two days before the exam we receive an email from the course administrator, telling us that the venue for the coming weekend has changed. The University that hosted our college for many years has terminated our contract, after receiving complaints because the college recently organised a screening of the controversial film VAXXED on their premises. I am horrified by the censorious and extreme reaction of the University, and upset our course director would put us in this position in the first place. The story breaks in the press – even making the front page of The Times – and the whole Andrew Wakefield MMR scandal of several years ago is rehashed. The reporting is as inaccurate and sensationalist as one might expect, and my own personal reaction to the situation is that we should never have been involved in the first place. It feels way outside the remit of a college of homeopathy to be a part of something as political and controversial as this, and given that everywhere else in London had already refused to screen it, there was bound to be a significant backlash. It is definitely not what I signed up to, and whatever my own feelings about vaccination are, it is not a debate that I ever would have chosen to be publically made a part of and implicated in.
As well as being an untimely blow to my new found confidence, I’m angry. I arrange a meeting with my course director to discuss it, and end up feeling patronised, upset, and frustrated. I decide that there is no point in complaining – what’s done is done – so I concentrate on my studies instead. I’ve asked that the college help to prepare us for the difficult conversations that will inevitably follow by giving us a briefing on the facts and information. It would be really helpful to see the research papers that both sides of the MMR/vaccination debate claim prove their point of view, so that we are at least equipped to have a fully informed opinion when the debate arises. I’m sure the whole thing will soon blow over, but right now it is an unwelcome additional complication to my already difficult career change. Hopefully the one silver lining is that the old adage ‘all publicity is good publicity’ is true, and that many more people see the film as a result.
The one upside to this is that it provides a welcome distraction from my nerves, and the exam seems to go relatively well. I’m aware that I can’t remember some of the details such as modalities and aggravations, but I’m confident that I understand the major themes of all the remedies we’ve been asked to learn. We are all exhausted but relieved when it’s over, and when we go out for a class lunch to celebrate a 50th birthday everyone is in high spirits.
The timetable for the remainder of the weekend is a nice one – it feels like they’ve been gentle on us, after the pressure of such a difficult exam. Our Anatomy and Physiology lecture gets turned into a timely discussion about the importance of using credible sources when carrying out research. We also have lectures on organ support (relating to the uterus, this time), and the metals, including Platina and Palladium, and by the end of the weekend I realize I’ve learned around 20 new remedies. They are really coming thick and fast, now!
Another interesting session is ‘A Sycotic Case’, the objective of which is to teach us how difficult it can be to spot the remedy Thuja when analysing a case. I’m currently prescribing Thuja for one of my private patients, so I listen with interest. It is genuinely one of the most useful lectures I’ve had this academic year, because there is so much more to learn from it than from the very straightforward and successful case studies that we are so often given. Our lecturer is funny, and refreshingly honest about the mistakes she felt she made, and about how clear the case seems in hindsight. We are left with the message that if we ever think it might be Thuja, then to always prescribe Thuja, because it is the remedy that hides. It’s a useful gem that I’ll hold on to. I feel so lucky to be learning from such inspiring and insightful teachers, and fall a little bit back in love with the college again.
One week later I’ve got my clinic day. I’ve really got into the swing of my student clinics now, and find myself actively looking forward to them. Today the 2nd years start, and the 4th years have their last session, so there are lots of people in the room. I’m sad to see the 4th years go because they are lovely, and we’ve worked together so well. I’ve learned a lot from them, and always in such a supportive atmosphere.
My patient has got her final clinic appointment today, and we have already agreed that I will take her on as a private patient afterwards. I think the appointment goes well, and I feel like I really understand her now. In the discussion afterwards we agree that she is a bit overwhelmed by all the changes that her treatment has brought about, and that she needs a grounding, supportive prescription. The clinician suggests Bambusa arundinecea, a relatively new remedy made from bamboo. It’s not something I’ve come across before, but on reading about it I can see that it makes sense. We prescribe it in a low potency, and I hope it helps her to take stock of everything that’s happened, and feel a bit more rooted.
Later on I am observing one of my fellow 3rd years take her first case, a 3 year old boy. It’s a difficult one. The child has been diagnosed with William’s syndrome, a rare condition resulting a global developmental delay and delayed growth. The patient is tiny for his age, he unable to talk, he has only just begun to walk, and almost most strikingly of all, he does not eat, at all. My classmate seems overwhelmed, and I cannot blame her, especially because the entire family of four are in the (tiny!) room with us. I end up getting much more involved than I am supposed to, and we take the case as a sort of double act. This gives both of us the opportunity to read a long referral letter from the boys’ hospital, which is full of relevant information that might not have come up otherwise. The boy is a real charmer, and seems to have bonded with my classmate by the end, despite being non verbal and having very limited eye contact. She has done a brilliant job of getting the necessary information out of the mother, despite some language/cultural barriers, and we leave the session both desperately hoping that we are able to help him. I apologise to her afterwards because I’m worried that I interfered more than I should have done, but she reassures me that she wanted me to get involved.
After repertorising the case it is clear which remedy her patient needs, and we all look forward to seeing how he is next month. It’s finally the end of a very busy day, and I set off for home feeling drained but satisfied. I have a lot of work to do right now but none of it with an immediate deadline, so I hope to have a less stressful month than the previous one.
“The start of a new year, and I go into it feeling both emboldened and overwhelmed…”
The start of a new year, and I go into it feeling both emboldened and overwhelmed. We have two assessments to submit in mid-January, and after a disastrous Christmas with all four of us laid up with the flu, I am seriously behind. For the first time ever I have to defer one of them, and just about manage to get the other one finished in time. It is a shame, and I do worry about getting behind with my workload, but there is no other option, and it feels like a relief for now at least.
The assessment that I did manage to submit was a case taking one, and considering how little time and energy I was able to put into it I think I have done it justice. It dawns on me that this is the point at which the focus of the course shifts, away from the academic learning and onto the practical, practitioner side. It is exciting, and now my initial fears have subsided I feel ready for it. I have my second supervision session in early January, and I’ve got two follow ups and two new cases to discuss. The case taking itself is going well, and I am confident in my ability to get the important information out of my patients. Asking questions comes naturally to me, and I’m a confident communicator. This is the area in which some of the skills I learned in my old career come to the fore, and it feels good to know that all that experience isn’t totally wasted! I also think that my ability to repertorise a case has improved since I’ve been taking my own patients, and it’s a relief because this is an area I’ve always struggled with. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information a patient has shared, and it’s difficult to pick out the truly relevant aspects of a case. After a couple of recent lectures focusing on this I feel like the penny has finally dropped, and I am able to look at a case more objectively. Prescribing is still my nemesis, though. Choosing the similimum remedy is typically easy, but choosing the potency and dosage throws me every time. My supervisor and other lecturers have reassured me that it’s the last thing everyone learns, and that it will come naturally over time. Right now, though, I feel like I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, and I am grateful for the guidance of my supervisor.
Shortly after my supervision session I receive a phone call from a woman asking to book an appointment with me. She got my details from a natural parenting Facebook group that one of my friends shared them on, and is new to homeopathy. My previous patients have all been friends, or the children of friends, and this is my first ever patient who is a total stranger. It is very exciting, and I am pleased with the way in which I answer her questions and make arrangements to see her. I think I sound much less nervous than I feel! When I visit her the following week to take her case, I feel much less sure of myself, and worry that I come across as nervous and unprofessional. The conversation flows fairly naturally, though, and thankfully it seems like a straightforward case, so I hope that I am able to help her.
So, on reflection, it feels like it’s really happening for me. I’ve found a new confidence this month, and on several occasions I’ve introduced myself as a homeopath. It feels great to say those words, and I find that rather than worry about people’s reaction, I am amused by the spectrum of responses that I receive. I haven’t had any truly negative ones yet, but I am braced and ready now, helped by the continued growth in my own faith in homeopathy.
January’s college weekend falls the day after our assignments are submitted, and I think we have all felt the pressure of the increasing workload. The lighthearted attitude with which we started the academic year has well and truly gone, and everyone is focused on the hard work that’s to come over the next few months. This weekend we are briefed on two new assignments – an exam that we sit in February, and a self reflective diary which doesn’t need to be submitted until May. It is overwhelming, especially when we see the exam directive and learn quite how many remedies we are to be tested on. The lecturer reassures us that we are not expected to learn the Materia Medica inside out, and that instead we will be asked to describe the overall themes relating to groups of remedies, and to make comparisons between the remedies within that. It is still an awful lot of work, and I am overwhelmed with relief that my husband and I have recently made the decision to increase the childcare provision for our two year old. Not only is our workload at college increasing, but I now have responsibility for several patients, and there is not enough time in the day. I feel blessed to have a partner who is so fully behind my career change, and who goes out of his way to create extra time for me when I need it.
The final double session of the weekend is about self reflection, and how important this is as part of our practitioner development. Even though I am a naturally introspective person, self-reflective practice doesn’t come easily to me, and I come away feeling like I still don’t quite understand what is required of me. We have been given lots of reading to do, and I hope that with time and practice it begins to feel like a natural process. I can certainly understand why it is important for any CAM practitioner, and I am keen to create the best possible environment for my patients as I can. For now though, my focus has to be on the exam, and on finding a way for my tired, overworked brain to remember all those remedies.
“I am back at my monthly student clinic, and my patient is booked in for her second appointment…”
I am back at my monthly student clinic, and my patient is booked in for her second appointment. I’ve been thinking about her a lot, and wondering how she’s doing. Brilliantly, it turns out. On taking the first of the two remedies I prescribed she had an aggravation, followed by a huge improvement in some of her symptoms. As we are going through her previous notes and comparing her current health, it becomes clear that the second remedy has enabled her to make some significant changes in her life. She looks so much brighter, and although there is still a lot of work to do, it is clear to her and to us that the treatment is working. I am delighted, both for her and for me! Our tutors have warned us against the dangers of arrogance and pride after successful prescribing, reminding us that it’s the remedy and the patient that have done the work, and I am keen to live by this sentiment. But at the same time, it’s a huge boost to see my prescription working so well.
The following weekend I am back at college, and I bump into my patient during the lunch break. I am astonished to see her, and desperately try to figure out why she is here (a totally different location to the student clinic). It turns out that she is so won over by her homeopathic treatment that she is considering taking a course herself! She is spending the weekend sitting in on the 1st year classes, before deciding whether to enrol. Once I’ve recovered from my surprise we have a lovely chat, and I can see that she is setting out on the path of making some significant changes in her life. I am so pleased for her, and I hope that whatever decision she makes, she is happy for me to continue treating her.
Other than some very complicated and detailed work on the nervous system (which I think I get to grips with by the end, but only just) the timetable is packed full of new remedies this weekend. We are taught about about acids, snakes, organ remedies, bowel nosodes, and Coffea cruda. By the end I feel utterly overwhelmed by the quantity of knowledge that I’ve tried to absorb, and wonder how I will ever remember everything. Not only are there thousands of remedies, but there are also so many different ways to approach a case, and so much seemingly contradictory advice.
Organ support remedies is an interesting session, and gives a different take on how to approach certain stages of a case. When I started the course I was struck by how often our lectures contradict each other, and it took me a while to realise that there are a number of competing theories and philosophies within homeopathic practice. Our lecturers represent a real balance of these, so we are taught about a variety of approaches. Whilst it’s confusing – for the beginner at least – it’s also great to learn about these from the outset, so that we can think about what sort of practice we’d like to run.
I’ve been particularly keen for a lecture on bowel nosodes, and we are lucky to have one of the leading experts teaching us. It feels like such essential information, and I am glad to know about them at this stage, before I set my practice up in earnest. We learn about how they can successfully treat a wide range of conditions, but particularly anything relating to the skin, digestive system, and lungs, and it strikes me how many modern illnesses fall within this group. One of the cases that I am due to take soon is childhood eczema, and I find myself hoping that the indicated remedy is a bowel nosode, so that I might see them working in action!
I have my first supervision session booked one week later, and it makes me feel the pressure of my new workload. I spend several hours taking a case and writing it up over the weekend, and feel guilty about the impact it has on family life, and how little time we spend together right now. The weekend commitment is draining for both my husband and I, and although we’ve all adapted to it now, I do feel guilty. I try to hold on to the thought that in the long term my family will benefit from me having a career that is so very flexible, with me working locally at hours that suit us.
This month I’ve also been wrestling with my confidence in ‘going public’ with this new career. I need to start taking patients, which means I need to start marketing myself, and it makes me realise how few people actually know about the training I’ve spent so long doing. I make a tentative start by emailing a small group of friends who I know are at least not totally against homeopathy, telling them about the student rates that I’m charging, and asking them to forward the message to anyone who might be interested. I also force myself to mention it to a couple of mums at the school gates, and they seem interested. I am relieved and emboldened to at least not have been laughed at or lambasted, and resolve to move on to bigger and braver things. Learning all those remedies suddenly pales into insignificance, compared to the challenge of feeling OK about swimming against the tide to such a degree!
By the time I skype with my supervisor I am in serious need of a pep talk, but we have two cases to discuss, and there isn’t time for anything else. My first case is an old one that I took several months ago, and I prescribed two remedies, neither of which have had any noticeable effects. On reviewing the case I realise that I’ve made a number of mistakes, and my supervisor draws my attention to even more. It is pretty demoralising, but she is kind, and also points out the things I’ve done well. By the end we agree on how to move forward, and not only do I feel great to have such a clear plan, but I also realise how much I’ve learned from the experience. The second case is much more straightforward, and it boosts my fractured confidence to hear that I’ve done everything as I should do, and that she agrees with my suggested prescription.
A key element of the clinical training part of the course is self-reflection, and the importance of understanding our own feelings and behaviours, during case taking especially. After my supervision I spend some time reflecting about the difficulties I’m having with making the transition from student to practitioner, and I realise I need to do some work on myself. Time to book an appointment with my own homeopath, to get some help with navigating my way through what will undoubtedly be the biggest career change I’ll ever have.
“Since February of my 2nd year I’ve been attending a student clinic once a month…”
Since February of my 2nd year I’ve been attending a student clinic once a month. Until recently we’ve watched via a camera link in the treatment room, and it has been a great way to witness the homeopathic consultation taking place with real life patients. It is amazing to see the theories that I’ve read so much about in text books finally come to life. The cases are typically complicated – normal people with normal lives, and not nearly as clear cut as the amazing case studies that so we often hear about in college. We’ve recently changed to a ‘paper clinic’, so that several patients can be seen at once, with two students feeding each case back to everyone else for analysis at the end of the day.
A 4th year student usually takes the case with one of us 3rd years sitting in to observe, but this month we have lots of patients, and not enough 4th years to go round. The clinician asks if one of us is willing to take on a patient for the first time, and I nervously agree. An hour later when it’s time to go downstairs to meet her, panic has well and truly set in. I’ve taken several cases with my friends and family and I am relatively confident doing so, but here is a paying member of the public, and I suddenly feel very out of my depth.
Thankfully she is lovely, and we instantly have a great rapport. Her presenting complaints are digestive problems and food allergies, but it is difficult to get any really clear symptoms. Halfway through the session, when I ask about her sleep, it comes to light that she suffered a major emotional trauma two years ago, and it’s clear this is actually the root of most of the issues. This is so often the case, and really highlights how essential holistic treatment is. I gently encourage her to share her experience with me, focusing on how she felt about it then and the lasting impact that it’s had on her. She is obviously deeply traumatised, and very upset. Although I suddenly feel ill-equipped to help her I do my best to give her the space she needs, and to reassure her that she can let her emotions out safely here. By the end of the session I am overwhelmed with emotion myself, and have no idea whether I did well or not.
When we discuss the case later in the day the feedback I get is incredibly positive, and I am reassured to hear that I handled the situation appropriately. We spend plenty of time repertorising the case, and it comes down to two remedies that are both strongly indicated. I end up choosing the one that I instinctively felt she needed while we were talking, even though most people in the room – including the clinician – favour the other. It feels like a brave move for a beginner, so fingers crossed that my instincts are good! As I leave it dawns on me that today wasn’t a one off, and that she’s MY patient now. What a responsibility. I suddenly lose the courage of my convictions in my remedy choice, and desperately hope that it has a positive impact on her by the time we next meet.
A week later and I’m back at college again. One of the things on the agenda this weekend is supervision. We are given a list of approved homeopaths able to give us one to one supervision, and find out that we need to do at least 10.5 hours this academic year. This also means it’s time to start taking our own patients, so that we’ve actually got something to be supervised on! Initially my main concern is that it’s an additional cost, on top of the already expensive course fees. Our lecturer strongly encourages us to start charging at this stage (£25 is the suggested amount – less than half of what you’d pay to see an experienced homeopath where I live in London) so that we can cover some of our costs, and I struggle to believe that anyone will be willing to pay. I realise this is more an issue of confidence, and that I need to just bite the bullet and go for it. Being able to run everything past an experienced homeopath who will help me decide on a prescription feels important at this stage, because although I’m confident that I understand the theories, putting it into practice is a different matter.
When I go through the list at home I struggle to find someone who is nearby and who feels like a good match for me. It gets me thinking about the sort of homeopath I will be, and I realise that I very much favour the classical approach, certainly for when I’m starting out. I am reluctant to choose anyone who is involved with the more esoteric side of healing. In the end I abandon my hope to find someone who is nearby enough for our sessions to be face to face, and approach my favourite lecturer who agrees to supervise me by Skype. I’m confident that it’s the right choice, and I feel genuinely privileged to work with her.
Another session we have this month is about different remedy types and how they make you – as the practitioner – feel. I’m fascinated by this idea, because ever since learning about the notion of constitutional types it’s the area I’ve been most interested in (I highly recommend this book https://www.amazon.co.uk/Homeopathic-Psychology-Personalities-Constitutional-Remedies/dp/155643099X). Our lecturer has us all laughing as he talks about being able to recognise certain remedies by how bored the patients make him feel, and it feels like a useful insight. It’s a relief to have a relatively light-hearted session in an otherwise full on weekend.
I finish feeling exhausted, but ready to get started on the case taking assignment that we’ve been briefed on. I am a bit jittery about how it’s all becoming real now, and part of me longs to hide behind my textbooks for another few months. I’ve always felt confident about the academic part of the course, but the practical side is so different to anything I’ve done before and it’s daunting. I am pleased to already have my first ever patient though, and I can’t wait to hear what sort of month she’s had on the remedies I prescribed.
“It’s my first weekend at college after a long summer break, and I am desperate to get back…”
Hello. I’m Amanda, and I’m training to be a homeopath. I know, brave huh?! It amazes and saddens me that homeopathy is the subject of so much negativity that it feels like an embarrassing confession. But here we are, and here I am: preparing to be one of the next generation of ambassadors for this powerful and unstoppable science and art.
I first dreamed about becoming a homeopath ten years ago. I was bored, disillusioned with my career in the charity sector, and desperate for a change. Like many people who become CAM practitioners I had been ill myself, and I learned the hard way that mainstream medicine had little to offer. Homeopathy transformed my health, but more significantly it gave me a whole new lens through which to view the world. Here was a tool to help people become the very best of themselves both physically and emotionally, and I wanted to be the one to guide and witness that process.
Two children and one career break later and my training finally began. I’m now starting my third year of a four year part time course, and my resolve to turn my passion for homeopathy into a successful career is slowly becoming a reality.
So I’ve agreed to write a monthly diary for the ARH, documenting and sharing my journey. It’s been an amazing one so far. A heady combination of mind-blowing discoveries about this incredible world, a few less mind-blowing discoveries about myself, far more hard work than I ever imagined, wonderful classmates who all have a fascinating story of their own, some truly awe inspiring lecturers, and (of course) the occasional wobble. I aim to be honest, and of course I hope to be interesting, but mostly I want to inspire you to take the first steps along this path too.
It’s my first weekend at college after a long summer break, and I am desperate to get back. I’ve missed my fellow students, I’ve missed the weekends away from hectic family life, and most of all I’ve missed learning about my one true passion. I am excited. I know I have a big year ahead – next month I need to arrange one to one supervision and start seeing patients, by the New Year I’ll be taking cases at my monthly student clinic, and the previous 3rd years have filled us with fear about quite how much work is involved at this stage. I remain undaunted, and more enthusiastic than ever about embarking on my new career after so many years of dreaming.
In the lead up to the college weekend my two year old falls ill with a fever, and by the Friday evening we are in A&E with a collection of horrid symptoms which add up to suspected meningitis. The hospital staff are amazing, and after one dose of ibuprofen she is reassuringly boisterous again. We eventually get the all clear, and my faith in modern medicine – and doctors – is seriously restored. My children were conceived, gestated, and raised homeopathically, and I feel truly blessed that they are generally so healthy and vital. But Cicely* has had regular high fevers since she was a baby, and rarely seems to respond to remedies when she is in them. This incident seriously shakes my faith in homeopathy, so by the time I get to college late on the Saturday morning (after making sure she’s OK with her dad for the day) I’m in need of some convincing.
I miss the first lecture, and arrive halfway through Anatomy and Physiology, which this month focuses on kidneys. I have an arts background, and science still terrifies me like it did when I was twelve. Thankfully our lecturer is not only amazing but also very patient. I gradually catch up, and realise how desperate I am to use my brain after a long summer entertaining two small children. It is enthralling, and I vow to do some more reading around the subject at home.
The afternoon is spent learning some new remedies, including Tarentula Hispanica. How could anyone fail to be fascinated by this? Our inspiring and passionate lecturer illustrates its’ main theme by playing a drum and bass track called ‘Tarantula’ at full volume. I am immediately cast back to my misspent youth and can’t help moving, despite having had only three hours sleep. It is a powerful way to illustrate one of the main aspects of this remedy, and interesting to hear that many others in the class had no desire to dance at all, or found it irritating. I feel like I really understand the remedy by the end, and can already think of one or two children I know who might benefit from it. By the end of the day I am relieved and glad to be back into the swing of college, but ready to go home for cuddles with my poorly girl, and an early night.
Day two is the one I’ve been looking forward to – autism and infertility are the main focus, two things I have a keen interest in. Our autism lecturer is one we haven’t had before, and the entire class is wowed by her. She is strong, intimidatingly intelligent, and truly committed to her work both as a homeopath and a film-maker of homeopathic documentaries. I realise I’ve found a new hero. She shows us a film of some children she has treated for autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), and their families, and they have most of us welling up with emotion (you can watch them here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXV8GMSc5Vg). It’s a controversial topic, and I am aware that we need to tread carefully when talking about it, particularly if we choose to mention it on our websites. I know several children (and one much older adult) who have been diagnosed with ASD, and it gets me thinking about how I would love to help them. It also makes me realise how cautious I am about telling people what I’m studying, and about offering my services once I’m in practice, because I’m nervous about the negative responses I know I will receive. I have always been sensitive to criticism and conflict, and I hope that by the end of the course I’ve found a way to deal confidently and calmly with these situations. I know the other students share my concerns, so it’s something we discuss both amongst ourselves and with our lecturers. If only there was a remedy to instantly give us all a thicker skin.
After some history (James Compton Burnett, which is surprisingly interesting), and some more spiders, it’s time for a double lecture about infertility. The presentation is packed full of hard facts and useful tips, and it makes me realise how much I already know about this area. Many of my friends have turned to IVF after struggling to conceive, and we’ve had our fair share of problems too, so it turns out that I am already very familiar with our reproductive organs and the things that can go wrong! It’s a timely confidence boost for me, and brilliant to hear so many positive case studies too.
I finish the weekend with my confidence in homeopathy fully restored (and with Cicely on the mend and on a strict regime of Belladonna and Merc Viv!), and ready to face the rest of the academic year. No assignments to write or exams to revise for this month (phew), so I grab a copy of the 3rd year book list on my way out and prepare for some interesting reading. Once I’ve caught up on all that missed sleep.
* Not her real name