Homeopathy and phenomenology: response to David Levy
22 December 2017 (online)
David Levy's critique of the article by Tom Whitmarsh[ 1 ] and my editorial[ 2 ] helpfully develops the debate about homeopathy's contribution to more insightful, person-centered and holistic way of doing medicine. Whitmarsh has addressed some of the finer philosophical points. I want to take up a central theme in Levy's letter with which, although he does not seem to have recognized it, I am in complete sympathy. And which allows me to add an important corollary to my essay.
Levy is absolutely right to insist that subjectivity and interpretation are inseparable from the therapeutic relationship. Not only are they inseparable from it, they are indispensable to it. The compassion and empathy, the wisdom, understanding and discernment, that are its essential ingredients, particularly if it is to be a truly healing relationship, are dependent on those subjective and interpretative elements – if they are used well. Truly reflective practitioners will understand their susceptibility to those influences at work in themselves and others, and use them critically and creatively. They must be fully aware of the truth of Levy's apt quotation from Barcan.
All this is not only an essential component of good clinical practice, but also essential to the all-important contextual healing effect. And all this I take as given for good medicine in general, and good homeopathy in particular. It is what I mean by homeopathy's close attention to the lived experienced of illness, its respect for the patient's narrative; explicitly acknowledging the importance of the subjective details of the ‘story of sickness’, of the unique phenomenon of illness in every life.
The distinction that I sought to make is between the formal (and sometimes inappropriate) language of medical knowledge and precept, and the informal and intimate language of the patient's lived experience; mediated of course, but insightfully and humbly we hope, by the practitioner's own lived experience. It is the former that we must not allow to prejudice our perception of the story, rather than the latter which is the essence of the therapeutic encounter.
The rich vein of scientific enquiry and clinical opportunity that I evoke is to explore and understand how these elements converge within the therapeutic ‘black box’; and how they are reflected in the clinical outcome and the improved wellbeing of the patient. This is a challenge for the whole of medicine. But the fact that homeopathy ‘works’ provides us with an invaluable experimental model; by virtue of what can be learned from the study of the dynamics of illness on which its method is based, and of the dynamics of the healing process revealed in the biological, psycho-social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual changes that accompany the response to treatment.
I believe, as does Whitmarsh, and, I think it is fair to say, Levy, that phenomenology can assist us in this task.
- 1 Whitmarsh T. Phenomenology and homeopathy. Homeopathy 2013; 102: 225-229.
- 2 Swayne J. Guest Editorial Phenomenology, pathography, and the concept of illness. Homeopathy 2013; 102: 157-159.