Homeopaths and biologists alike acknowledge that living organisms respond to stresses in ways that primarily allow for survival. Organisms will protect their most vital processes first. Homeopaths therefore assume that the person's mental state is vital for survival insofar as it governs the state of awareness that makes decisions on how to respond to stressful or life-threatening situations. The organism will protect the most deep psychological level most strongly and will first externalize various superficial emotions. Likewise on a physical level, certain vital organs, especially the brain and the heart, will be protected before other organs.
Homeopaths operate on the assumption that the organism creates the best possible response, based on its present abilities, to whatever stresses it is experiencing. Because homeopaths view symptoms as adaptive efforts of the organism to respond to stress or infection, they assume that efforts to control or suppress these defensive reactions can lead only to more serious symptoms. The evidence supporting this assumption is in any pharmacology text which lists the side effects of drugs. It becomes immediately apparent that the side effects of drugs are often more serious than the condition they are treating. And predictably, these side effects include various acute and chronic mental symptoms. A classic example of this phenomena is witnessed in the use of corticosteroids (cortisone and prednisone), used to suppress skin eruptions and asthmatic attacks. In addition to the various side effects of these drugs, corticosteroids are also known to induce depression and even psychosis, which diminish when the drug dosage is reduced or stopped.
Psychological symptoms, too, are thought of as ways in whicha person is trying to adapt to biological and psychosocial stresses. Such symptoms should not be suppressed, unless medically essential. Instead, a homeopathic medicine should be individually prescribed based on the totality of the person's symptoms. The correct homeopathic medicine will catalyze an healing process that will raise the person's overall level of health. To complement the prescription, good homeopaths will provide some psychotherapeutic support based on homeopathic principles (See "Psychotherapy--Homeopathic Style"). And of course, homeopaths will, when appropriate, refer clients to various other health practitioners.
The Homeopathic Treatment of Psychological Problems
Several schools of psychologists categorize people in certain psychological or characterological types. Others in medicine, genetics, and sports categorize various "body types." Homeopaths, in contrast, acknowledge certain "bodymind" types. They determine their medicines based on the constellation of physical and psychological symptoms.
Choosing the correct homeopathic medicine is at once a highly systematic and an artful process. Edward C. Whitmont, M.D., one of the founders of the New York Jungian Training Center and a homeopath since the 1940s, has written eloquently about the homeopathic bodymind types. In his book Psyche and Substance: Essays on Homeopathy in the Light of Jungian Psychology, Dr. Whitmont describes a dozen key medicines that homeopaths use, the role that each of these substances play in nature, the chemistry of each substance and how it acts the way it does, the symptoms that it is known to cause in human beings when given in toxic dose, and the bodymind type it is known to treat and cure. (10)
In a similar fashion, Catherine Coulter, a homeopath in Washington, D.C., has written Portraits of Homoeopathic Medicines in which she describes the bodymind types in light of well known characters in literature, in history, and even in comics. (11)
In order to give a sense of some specifics of these homeopathic typologies, I will describe two medicines, Arsenicum album (arsenic) and Nux vomica (poison nut). The following descriptions are brief summaries. For more detailed information about them, consult the books by Whitmont, Coulter, articles by Vithoulkas (12) and various materia medicas. (13)
The person who needs Arsenicum is an overanxious, restless, fearful, perfectionist type of person. He or she has a driven nature; an anxious state over anything specific or just things in general; and suffers from a fussy meticulousness, all of which create a high strung and nervous individual. In general, people needing Arsenicum tend to assume that there are hostile forces at work in the world and that they must work vigilantly against them. They have a deep-seated insecurity, from which develops a dependency on others, a possessiveness of objects and people, a tendency towards fastidiousness, and deeply-felt anxieties and fears. They may have various anxieties and fears, especially about their health, their future, and their financial status, all of which are heightened when they are alone, and then diminished when they are with others. To reduce the chances of things going wrong, they become overconscientious. They overprepare for everything and are inordinately fastidious.
Physically, the person who needs Arsenicum is usually thin, fine-haired, delicate skinned, with pale or alabaster complexion. They perspire easily and profusely and are extremely sensitive to factors in the external environment. They are particularly sensitive to any exposure to cold and feel better from most forms of heat. They tend to experience burning pains which are relieved by warm applications, and if they have those pains in the stomach, they are relieved by warm drinks. Milk, fruit, ice cream, and alcohol may aggravate digestive or other symptoms. Most commonly, their physical and psychological symptoms will be particularly apparent at midnight and shortly after.
The symptoms which typify the Arsenicum type are often seen in insomniacs. Because the symptoms of Arsenicum are worse late at night and because these people tend to be perfectionistic, they usually require things to be "just right" in order to fall asleep. Part of their hypersensitivity to the environment lies in a sensitivity to noise--any noise.
Part of their overconscientious nature is an anxiety about health. People who need Arsenicum are often hypochondriacs. They have many, many symptoms, and even though they may have had them for a long time, they still want the practitioner to get rid of them immediately. As the result of this anxiety, they tend to go to a variety of doctors and usually try many types of alternative therapies. These people also tend to become addicted to various pain relievers or other medications that temporarily diminish their pain. Also, because of their anxious and restless nature, they may use drugs or alcohol to slow them down and help them relax.
Arsenicum is also a common medicine given to people with anorexic tendencies. People who need Arsenicum tend to have anxieties about the food they eat, sometimes thinking that all food is toxic and that they shouldn't eat at all. Another part of their personality that fosters anorexia is their perfectionist nature which tends to encourage a thinner and thinner waistline.
Nux vomica has several similarities to Arsenicum but more distinct differences. People who need Nux are hurried and impulsive, like those who need Arsenicum, though Nux people are more prone to irritability, anger, and maliciousness. Even those Nux people who have learned to control their rage tend to feel a hyperirritability and anger inside themselves struggling to be expressed. They are dissatisfied, rarely content, hypercritical of others, impatient, and jealous. They are very competitive. They will compulsively compete, even in certain games or job situations where competition isn't appropriate.
Like people who need Arsenicum, Nux people will be fastidious. Whereas Arsenicum people will usually become anxious and nervous as they try to hold in their disgust for messes, Nux people will often get irritated and visibly angered by lack of order and cleanliness.*
[* It must be noted that homeopaths recognize that a person can be neat, orderly, and fastidious in a healthy way. However, whenever homeopaths refer to fastidiousness as a symptom, they are referring to a state where the individual is overly concerned about cleanliness and order.]
People who need Nux tend to be extremely self-reliant, a distinct difference from those who need Arsenicum and theirdependence upon others. Nux people will overemphasize achievement, to such a degree that their life will become dominanted by their work. They will take on greater responsibility than they are capable of, becoming increasingly irritable and demanding.
Classically, people who need Nux represent what is called in psychology the "authoritarian personality." (15) They want to force things their own way. To achieve security they adopt a powerful authority and demand that those in inferior positions submit to it. Whitmont describes them as perfect bureaucrats. They are rigidly moralistic and will condemn others who violate Nux's moral code. And finally, they repress socially disapproved tendencies and project them onto others.
Nux people also have a soft side. They are sentimental and may cry from listening to certain music or seeing beautiful things. And despite a rough exterior, they cannot stand the least pain. They may cry even after a bout of anger. Since they can't stand the least opposition, they may cry from frustration. Despite this occasional tendency to weep, it has been consistently observed that, though they may be sad at times, it is often impossible for some people who need Nux to cry.
Physically, people who require Nux may be husky, solid, and muscular, or they may be lean, bent forward, and withered. They are physically and emotionally irritated by exposure to cold, drafts, noise, and light. Their worst time of day is upon waking, and it usually takes an hour or so to wake up. They sometimes feel an urge to take a nap. If they are accidently awakened from this nap, they become highly irritated. They may suffer from insomnia because of their very active mind which constantly ruminates about the many irons they have in the fire.
They tend to overeat, with cravings for fats, spicy foods, and milk. They may experience various digestive and nervous symptoms which are aggravated by foods that they tend to crave, especially milk, meat, fats, and coffee. Commonly, they will be constipated and have much gas.
Typically, people who need Nux to sustain their hyperactive nature by drinking coffee, imbibing alcohol, and taking various stimulants. They are therefore prone to alcoholism, drug abuse, and malnutrition. They may be friendly when they are sober; however, when they are drunk or high, they tend to be abusive, cruel and violent. They will ridicule and scorn others. They thus have tendencies to wife and child abuse. They also have strong sexual desires, and they tend to demand much from their sexual partner. Their strong sexual desires may also lead them to raping others. However, if they have drunk too much or taken too many drugs, they may become impotent, even after the effects of these substances has worn off.
People who need Nux also have classic "Type A" behavior. They are prone to being workaholics and will often demand a similar level of commitment to work from others. As the result of this hyperactivity, they tend to become hypertensive and are therefore prone to heart disease.
Arsenicum and Nux are two of the many homeopathic medicines used to treat people suffering from psychological and physical problems. Homeopaths commonly treat people with acute and chronic psychological disorders, including depression, anxieties and phobias, and emotional and mental states of confusion. Homeopaths also commonly treat people with substance abuse problems.
The late Dr. Jack Cooper was the Chief Psychiatrist for 17 years at New York's Westchester County Prison and Jail. Although he didn't initially use homeopathic medicines at his work in the prison, he was very impressed with the results he received when he finally began to do so. He found that the prisoners he was treating with homeopathic medicines were becoming more able to cope with the withdrawal of drugs and alcohol. Of particular importance, Dr. Cooper also noted that for several years there were no suicides in the prison, whereas both before he began using the medicines and after he left, there were several suicides every year. Dr. Cooper found that the homeopathic medicines were having dramatic effects on the prisoners' physical and mental health. And of personal significance to Dr. Cooper, he found that his work was no longer frustrating, but rewarding and worthwhile.