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Why I became a homeopath
Dr Stella Bawden qualified as a doctor in 1982. Here she explains why she became interested in homeopathy and how it has become an important part of her medical practice.
I’d never heard of homeopathy during medical training or in my early years as a junior doctor. I first encountered complementary therapies when I attended three weekend courses on the use of hypnosis, run by doctors and dentists, and subsequently achieved some success in applying this technique in practice. When training to become a GP I decided to carry out a study to find out how many patients used complementary medicine and was intrigued by the large number who said they did, generally without their doctors’ knowledge. Then while still a GP trainee I attended a conference in Durham and heard a wonderful presentation on homeopathy by Dr David Reilly from the NHS Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital. Inspired by this I began training in homeopathy, as it was within the umbrella of the NHS and appeared such a safe and effective therapy.
I attended courses at what was then the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (now the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine) and later joined the HPTG (Homeopathic Physicians Teaching Group) in Oxford. My love and fascination of homeopathy grew and I particularly enjoyed learning from veterinary colleagues their astute observational techniques. This has proved especially helpful to me when working with young children.
Just over ten years ago I conducted a study that looked at how hospital consultants in West Dorset viewed homeopathy. Sixty-three (98%) of the consultants completed the questionnaire. Despite media hostility and the medical establishment’s negative view of homeopathy, I was amazed that 25% of the consultants had actually taken a homeopathic medicine themselves. Furthermore, 48% said they would consider using it to treat their families and 56% would like GPs to be able to offer patients the treatment when appropriate.
In 2000, I qualified as a Member of the Faculty of Homeopathy and in early 2001 persuaded my Primary Care Trust to fund an NHS homeopathy clinic in Dorchester, Dorset, accepting GP referrals from the locality. I have run a weekly session based at my surgery for the last ten years. It has been a fascinating journey and has enriched my general practice enormously. As well as benefiting my patients I feel my consultation skills have improved as I listen and watch the patient so much more carefully. Using homeopathy has provided me with another therapeutic tool which I feel is safe and can be used alongside or instead of conventional medicine as appropriate. It is particularly rewarding in complex cases where patients through homeopathic intervention find themselves able to reduce the number of drugs they are taking.
Over the years I have used homeopathy during my ten minute GP consultations and undertaken more complex cases in my own time. One of my earliest successes involved a ten-year-old girl. She was brought by her grandmother to a routine GP appointment because she had been suffering from tiredness and poor sleep for three months. She was also having nightmares and her mood was very sad. Her mother had died of cancer five years earlier but only recently had she had problems sleeping, which coincided with her father’s new partner moving into the family home. As the door of her parents’ bedroom was now always kept closed she felt excluded, angry and let down. However, after taking the homeopathic medicine Natrum muriaticum (sodium chloride) 30c for a week she quickly improved. At subsequent follow-up appointments I saw a continued improvement although nothing else at home had changed.
I also recall a teenager who was struggling with sweaty hands which almost dripped with perspiration. She had also experienced grief with suppressed anger and felt unable to talk about it. After taking Natrum muriaticum this unpleasant problem was resolved. Perhaps the tears she couldn’t shed were represented by the wetness of her hands?
I have now reached a crossroads in my career as the homeopathy clinic lost its funding in July 2011. But my journey is not over, and could well be just beginning, as I have taken the first tentative steps towards setting up a private homeopathy service.
The homeopathic doctors I have met appear happier for going down this particular medical path, although at times they are confronted by the negative attitudes of colleagues and the media. People who know me say I light up when talking about homeopathy, which cannot be said when I’m discussing routine general practice. However, I don’t believe homeopathy can survive as a stand-alone medical therapy, as modern medicine has much to offer. But used as a complementary treatment homeopathy has an important role to play in modern healthcare provision.
Dr Stella Bawden BM DA DCH DRCOG MRCGP DGM MFHOM