MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

If I tell you that I just read a book by a homeopath writing about homeopathy, would you doubt my sanity? But I did, and I read it in one session with great interest. The book is (in German) by Natalie Grams (perhaps I should mention that I had never heard of her before Springer sent me her book), a German doctor; it is entitled HOMOEOPATHIE NEU GEDACHT (Homeopathy newly considered). I liked it a lot.

The author discusses in some detail why basically everything homeopaths believe in is erroneous. You might think: so what, we all knew that. True, we did, but she then she concludes that homeopathy has still some value as some sort of psychotherapy. The remedy is effective because the consultation with a homeopath gives it a ‘meaning’ which is tailor-made for each patient. Now you will think: that this is hardly original, others have considered this before. And you are, of course, correct again.

So why did this book fascinate me? Mostly because, in a few passages, Natalie Grams tells her very personal story how she matured from an enthusiast to rationalist. This could be reminiscent of my own life, but it isn’t (and by no means do I agree with everything doctor Grams writes). I found myself in a homeopathic hospital directly after medical school, became a homeopath (of sorts), later I learnt to think critically and researched homeopathy. As a scientist, when the evidence was squarely negative, I said so loud and clear (I published the whole story with all the relevant details here).

Natalie Grams studied medicine and seemed to have become disenchanted with the lack of humanity in mainstream medicine (as a clinician, I often felt this too but always concluded that the solution was not to turn away from medicine but to re-introduce more humanity into it). Doctor Grams then experienced serious health problems which were cured/alleviated by homeopathy. This made her look into the subject a little closer. She decided to do the necessary courses, uncritically adopted most of what she was told by die-hard homeopaths and eventually fulfilled her dream: she opened her own private practice as a homeopath. In other words, she dropped out of real medicine and into homeopathy, while I, in a way, did the reverse.

Doctor Grams’ practice seemed to have been successful; many of her patients, even some with serious conditions, got better. All she had been told about homeopathy seemed to get confirmed in her clinical routine. Homeopaths, like most clinicians, remember their success stories and tend to forget their failures. If this happens over and over during an entire life-time, the last doubts a budding homeopath may have once had dissolve into thin air. The result is a clinician who is utterly convinced that like cures like and high dilutions are powerful medicines because water has a memory.

Up to this point, Dr Grams career is a textbook example of a homeopath who would bet on the life of her children that homeopathy is correct and science is wrong. The world is full of them, and I have personally met many. They are usually kind, empathetic and dedicated clinicians. But they are also totally impervious to reason. They have their experience and NOBODY is allowed to question it. If you do, you are no longer their friend.

This is where the typical story of homeopaths ends… and they happily lied ever after (to themselves, their patients and everyone else). Not so in the case of Natalie Grams!

When she was still an enthusiast, she decided to write a book. It was going to be a book that showed how good homeopathy was and how bad its critics were. To do this responsibly, she read a lot of the original literature. What she found shocked her. When reading her account, I could repeatedly feel the agony she must have felt through her discoveries. Eventually, she had no choice but to agree with most of the arguments of homeopathy’s critics and disagreed with practically all of the arguments of her fellow homeopaths.

I predict that Natalie’s painful ‘journey’ has not yet come to an end; she now argues that the 200 year old assumptions of homeopathy are all obsolete and homeopathy is certainly not an effective drug therapy. However, it may turn out to be a valuable ‘talking therapy’, she believes.

I hate to say it, but I am fairly certain that she will have to go through further agony and find that her discovery is not truly workable. It might have some theoretical value but, for a whole number of reasons, it will not function in real life heath care.

My hope is that Natalie will find her way back to what she calls ‘normal medicine’ (there is, of course, the danger that she does the opposite and wanders off into even more esoteric grounds). We need doctors like her who have empathy, compassion and understanding for their patients. These are qualities many homeopaths who I have met have in abundance – but these are qualities that belong not into the realm of quackery, they belong into real medicine.

18 Responses to A homeopath I respect

  • “it will not function in real life heath care”

    Oh, I dunno. It sounds like she’s come to the conclusion that basically it’s as effective as a Wee Cup of Tea and a Biscuit, something that’s frequently missing in real medicine. If patients had doctors and nurses, or a resident psychologist, who had more time to listen, answer questions and generally reassure the patient they’re not just a unit being processed in a machine, I reckon there’d be far less demand for sugar pills and the like.

    • I agree, but then I wonder how we could do that.

      Doctors are overburdened already. Whether we like it or not, doctors are humans and there is a limit to how much time they can spend with a patient, without them working 96 hours a day, and that’s conveniently forgetting about the fact that we don’t want to pay for it, even if they would have the time.

      Here in Toronto, a doctor attempting to save the life of a patient makes less money than a quack blabbing on the phone. Yes, there may sometimes be a lack of sympathy and empathy in medicine, but I don’t think it is because doctors are heartless brutes (there are always exceptions, Dr. Oz comes to mind), but because reality doesn’t give them very many options.

      It is not the doctors who lack empathy, it is ourselves. We want to get services we don’t want to pay for. In this profit-driven society we live in, that’s not an option. Even doctors have to live, and they need money to do that.

  • While I find the idea of “talking therapy” in and of itself somewhat attractive, I think it is not. Turning homeopathy into a talking therapy is an attempt at perverting homeopathy into something it is not, and homeopaths – many of whom have a level of knowledge similar to that offered on the back of McDonalds’ paper placemats – into something they know nothing about, and that’s not even taking into account that talking therapies seem to have had their heyday and are on the road to oblivion (with the exception of numerous variations in QuackLand with Biologie Totale and such dangerous nonsense).

    It would also prolong the death throes of homeopathy and be utterly confusing to patients, patients who are already confused enough since they would not be looking at homeopathy if they weren’t.

    Homeopathy is quackery. Turning it into something which is likely to be a quackery as well while keeping the name is, in my view ill-advised, dangerous and unethical. Homeopathy has had its chance. It would have been wonderful and fantastic if it actually worked. It doesn’t. It deserves a resting place in the annals of therapies that failed, a subject for historians, forgotten by most everyone else except perhaps as an example of failure to be given during medical training, the way we talk about the phlogiston theory in chemistry.

    It is indeed painful to give up something we totally believed in, but in my experience, once we understand that our goal should be to find out what is true, and not to prove what we would like to be true, that pain changes into a pleasure, perhaps sometimes with some lingering nostalgic feelings that are easy enough to dismiss.

  • Sounds like she’s discovered the intellectual equivalent of reverse gear — an wonderful, though somewhat unsettling tool. It does sound (from Dr Ernst’s review at least) as if she is still learning to use it. I hope she can inform others at least of its existence. Homeopaths generally still haven’t discovered the brake, so they won’t change, but maybe she can change the way many on the periphery perceive it.

  • If we can take the empathetic care element from the more honest, decent (ie, those who, for whatever reason, genuinely want to help, rather than fleece people) end of the spectrum of homeopathy, and incorporate that into improved counselling, psychotherapy, palliative care, etc, then fine. But that then means homeopathy doesn’t exist – because it requires them to reject the nonsense pilules and shaken water ‘remedies’, and forget the reaching pseudoscience. But they can’t/won’t. Because without them, there is no such thing as ‘homeopathy’ and the ‘homeopath’ is redundant. Rather, they seemingly entrench in defence of what is tantamount to a belief system. Is this because it offers something that (mainstream) medicine doesn’t (or so the homeopathy propaganda would have it) – good empathetic care? They’ve generated/exploited a niche market.

  • The conclusion that homeopathy is talking therapy is, as you say, not novel. The main problem with this is that homeopaths are not actually trained as psychotherapists, so at best will not be up to date with the latest effective interventions and at worst might spin some complete fantasy that leads the patient to make disastrous choices.

    • The main problem with this is that homeopaths are not actually trained as psychotherapists, so at best will not be up to date with the latest effective interventions and at worst might spin some complete fantasy that leads the patient to make disastrous choices.

      Yes, they have their own warped diagnosis of the patient’s problem, so they’re spinning fairy tales about and treating the “underlying cause.” This is the worst part–they don’t even understand when a patient needs a psychotherapist and when they need an emergency room visit. A good friend, who’s a true-believer homeopath, has recently alluded to the idea that maybe homeopathy is a placebo but she’s seen it work, so maybe that’s not so bad–at least she’s keeping people from taking those evil, evil pharmaceuticals. I pretty much change the subject at that point because I know there’s nothing I can say to change her mind; she has too much time and an entire belief system built around her “medicine”. She buys into all the wacky theories about how the AMA conspired to wipe out homeopathy. (They learn that in homeopathy school.)

      But here’s the thing: She prides herself on being a very “nurturing” individual, but I’ve frequently seen where that crosses the line into control issues. She’s taken on patients who are vulnerable because of their age or mental state and decided they’re not going to take their prescription meds anymore; that’s her goal. One patient I know went completely off the rails without her psych meds, which caused her to need the homeopath more. It turned into a real dysfunctional relationship. This homeopath started out in nursing school but dropped out because of the time commitment and cost. Instead, as a homeopath she can have the autonomy and professional authority accorded a doctor, but without real medical knowledge. This is dangerous, and I think typical of the profile of a homeopath. It’s frightening.

      • ‘Instead, as a homeopath she can have the autonomy and professional authority accorded a doctor, but without real medical knowledge. This is dangerous… ‘

        In-feckin’-deed! And precisely why the less zealous of them should be objecting to such activity.

        • the less zealous of them should be objecting to such activity

          The less zealous of them believe the same things; the misinformation about how the body works, along with the paranoia about doctors and real medicine, is the entire basis of their training. If they stop buying into these core beliefs of homeopathy, I don’t see how they can still call themselves homeopaths. The only honorable thing they can do at that point is stop practicing it and start warning people against it, like Britt Hermes is doing.

  • False, the book is critic for one aspect of homeopathy:

    (Welche Bereiche der Homöopathie sind zu verwerfen? ) versus (Welche Bereiche der Homöopathie sind zu
    überdenken?)

  • Wäre Homöopathie ein Placeboeffekt, würde dieser Effekt ausschließlich bei ängstlichen Hypochondern auf Grund einer Suggestion nachweisbar sein.

    Interesting claim. How do you know that? Does it not bother you a bit that this claim is in contradiction with what we know about the placebo effect?

    • this is a question that is NOT allowed in homeopathy. homeopaths just know – full stop!!!

      • I am always amazed by how much homeopaths know. How do they do that? I have to spend hours and hours, days on end, to find the information I need, and even then, I can be wrong. But homeopaths seem to be infallible. I really wonder how they do that. Could it be genetics? In that case, we should maybe dissect a few and see how they tick and how this makes them so different and superior. That would surely be a big service to humanity!

        • it must be the high dilution – perhaps they dilute everything, including common sense?

          • Reduced to the quantum level. That should be really potent! That must be it.

            Brunke must be a real genius: “MASERNTOTE DURCH IMPFUNG, NICHT DURCH DAS VIRUS” It seems he has discovered the Shift key and makes ample use of it to spout his wisdom.

  • “Natalie Grams studied medicine”
    While she is not alone in her change, I constantly wonder what in chemistry she did not understand? The mindset that some dilution becomes more powerful when further diluted and then banged on a LEATHER BOUND book of superstitions is one I do not and can not understand.

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