“Blending the Old and the New” is a discussion of the guiding philosophy and methods of instruction at the New York School of Homeopathy.
It is important to understand how we teach and learn at The New York School of Homeopathy. The question of how to teach Classical Homeopathy in the 21st Century is an important one. How do we stay firmly based in the classical teachings of Hahnemann and the old masters and follow the true principles of Classical Homeopathy, while embracing the exciting and innovative methods of today? Homeopathic fundamentalists might ask “Why would we want to move beyond the amazing work of Hahnemann and his contemporaries when it has stood the test of time?” On the other hand, some ultra progressive homeopaths might ask “Why bother learning all that stuff from the classical homeopaths when we have improved on their methods?”
Why Blending the Old and the New Is Important
At NYSH, our response is that we need to do both; that is, we must use the knowledge from both the classics and the moderns if we are to profoundly cure our patients. Fundamentalism in any field or religion insists that we stand still and not move forward. The founder of homeopathy Samuel Hahnemann, great innovator and great thinker that he was, would have been the last person to suggest that we should stop progressing. I think he would be the first to embrace any ideas or methods that would help him find the true simillimum, since his quest was “to cure, as it is termed.” By that he meant meaningful and profound cure.
Profound cure is impossible if we limit ourselves. And if we were foolish enough to try to limit our information, where would we choose to stop anyway? Should we only use the remedies that Hahnemann proved, or should we also include Kent’s and Hering’s provings? Stopping anywhere makes no sense. Learning must go on and information and knowledge cannot be limited. Besides, our world is so much more complex than it was in the 19th and 20th centuries, therefore we need more remedies and more ways of finding the required remedy than ever before.
But, should we discard the old teachings and the repertories because we have discovered some newer and perhaps better ways of finding the true simillimum? Of course not. Anyone who learns and then practices homeopathy that way will be doing a disservice to themselves and to their patients. We all must get a good foundational education in Classical Homeopathy – and then we should add to that base, the new information and techniques that have proven to be useful.
This blending of the old and the new can be difficult for many homeopathic schools of today. There is so much information to teach and so little time, but at NYSH we have struck a good balance.
The First Two Years of Study at NYSH
We spend much of the time in the first two years of our school studying the classics and the well known polycrests. Yet even from the beginning, new homeopathic ideas are introduced. For instance, Phosphorus, Sepia and Lycopodium are not simply random polycrests with lots of symptoms to memorize, they are remedies that belong to the three kingdoms in nature. Understanding remedies as members of the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms is helpful from the start; it helps a new student understand the remedy as part of a grouping, instead of just being “Phosphorus” or “Sepia.”
At NYSH each level of study meets one weekend a month, ten months a year, for four years. In the first and second years of study, every Saturday morning is dedicated to Organon discussions; the students bring in thoughtful questions on their Organon reading from the month before. In addition to the Organon, we work with Kent’s Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy in class. There is an extensive book list that the students receive and it includes most of the classic texts as well as many of the new books.
In the first year we begin our work with homeopathic philosophy. From the beginning, I explain the difference between homeopathic principles such as the “Law of Similars” as opposed to rules or opinions (such as “use higher potencies for emotional or mental pathology.”) I emphasize how important it is to have the right intention, or “high ideals” as Hahnemann would put it. It is important for the students to be reminded that to work with homeopathy is a higher calling, and if one is hoping for fame or money, their success will be limited. Searching for the cure must be the intention every time.
When studying the polycrests, right from the start, I arrange remedies for homework and class study so they represent a range from the kingdoms of nature. This helps me begin the discussion of kingdoms right from the beginning. As the year progresses, we also study Hahnemann’s miasms and the most famous miasmatic remedies. I introduce the idea that the tubercular miasm had been added soon after Hahnemann’s death and that Rajan Sankaran has now expanded our understanding to ten miasms, and that this thinking could expand even further. The emphasis in the first year is on Hahnemann’s work and his book Chronic Disease, but the idea of an expanded miasm chart is introduced, and the students learn that it will be dealt with more extensively in the following years of study.
In the first year we begin our study of the mineral kingdom in March. At the same time each year, every level of student at NYSH gets involved in a comprehensive study of the mineral kingdom. Ever since Jan Scholten and Rajan Sankaran made the periodic table more accessible, we have been spending 2-3 months on the study of mineral remedies every year to deepen our understanding of mineral remedies. In the first year I offer an understanding of the periodic table as a whole (homeopathically) with an emphasis on the famous mineral kingdom polycrests. It is at this time that I first mention lesser known mineral remedy groupings like the halogens and noble gases, but it is the famous polycrest remedies that we study in depth. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year students re-study the periodic table each year and as one progresses in the school, the emphasis is more and more on the lesser known remedies and extends into the radioactive elements and the Lanthanides.
This should not be misunderstood as an overemphasis on the mineral kingdom. We also study plant families as groups with common characteristics, and animal groupings in the same way. It’s just that somehow, late winter/early spring has become the time of year for the study of minerals.
Homework and Self Study at NYSH
Homework and self study are a big part of the training at NYSH. Each month the students are asked to read from the Organon and other classic texts, and then read about the assigned remedies in as many texts as possible. They must write up the remedy pictures using prose to describe the feeling of the remedy followed by a list of big ideas, main symptoms, and keynote symptoms. The homework is due when we meet the following month and we spend time in class working together to broaden and fill out the remedy pictures that they have already written on their own.
Understanding Remedies Through Big Ideas and Circle Graphs
The way we work in class is mostly with big ideas. In fact we make a kind of circle/ spider graph with the biggest idea in the center of that graph; the idea from whence all the other ideas/symptoms occur.
For instance, in the center of the circle/spider graph for Calcarea carbonica is the main idea of a “need for security and protection.” All of the other ideas and symptoms come out of that need, ie. “overworking” (in order to feel secure about one’s job and finances), which then leads to the famous feeling of being “overwhelmed.” The famous fears of Calcarea carbonicum also come off of the center idea because it is easy to understand how “fear of the dark,” “fear of change” and even “fear of going insane or being observed as insane” come out of the core need for security and protection. Keynotes like “loves eggs” or “head sweats at night” are listed off to the side with an asterisk* so the students know that these symptoms are unique to that remedy and simply need to be memorized.
We make these circle/spider graphs for almost every remedy that is studied in the first year and for many in the second year. In the clinic class we sometimes turn that idea around and make a circle/spider graph about the patient. If the students can understand the core issue of the patient from which all of the other problems arise, it will be easier for them to select the correct remedy. I think homeopaths are all sort of doing an unconscious “circle/spider graph” whenever we take a case, but sometimes it is necessary for students to literally go through that exercise. Going both ways with this kind of work helps the students understand why one prescribes a particular remedy for a certain patient, instead of simply basing the prescription on a strict repertorization or a few matching keynotes.
Repertory as a Tool Among Others
The repertory is an amazing tool, where would we be without it? But it does have its limitations. For one thing, it takes a while for symptoms from new provings to be entered and therefore many new remedies are not represented. But there also exists the problem of incorrect entries- remedies that were listed under a symptom because one homeopath may have seen that reaction in a patient (whether or not that reaction was due to the remedy). I have heard another teacher say that it is like a telephone book- very useful but incorrect as far as including anyone who has moved away, or moved to town, since the last printing.
A bigger problem with repertory work is the fact that the polycrests are very much over represented and it looks as if we should only be prescribing those remedies. I think the repertory is one of the reasons for a more fundamentalist approach to homeopathy. The repertory indeed makes it look like we only need about 50 remedies to work with. It is difficult to arrive at a precisely well chosen remedy if we only use the repertory. However, by combining the use of the repertory with the study of kingdoms and groupings, along with the big ideas/themes of the patient, we discover a very effective way to work. No tool or method should be used exclusively.
Studying Remedies in Kingdoms and Groupings
From the 2nd year forward we study remedies in groupings such as the insects, spiders, snakes, acids, nosodes, sarcodes, sea remedies, various plant families and so on. We study the well known symptoms that remedies in these groupings share in common, and then we learn the differentiating symptoms of the individual remedies in that grouping. The idea behind working with groupings is simple; if we can understand which kingdom a patient belongs to, and then understand the grouping he/she belongs to based on the shared symptomology of that grouping, then one can look at the differentiating symptoms and keynotes of the individual remedies in that grouping, in order to select the exactly correct remedy. For instance, if a patient is speaking the language of the animal kingdom (speaking of survival issues on many levels), and then reports having many of the common symptoms of the snake grouping (like jealousy, high blood pressure, heat flashes, etc), then instead of simply prescribing Lachesis for every patient who has snake symptomology, you can consider a differentiating symptom like “dreams of rape,” and correctly prescribe Cenchris instead, since that information came from directly from the proving. It is probable that the patient might have gotten some relief from Lachesis, but if Cenchris is the more correct remedy, there will be a more significant response.
The Student Clinic at NYSH
Once a student officially joins the student clinic in the 3rd year of study, he/she begins applying this didactic information to real patients. Every Saturday we see one new patient and various followups. A student homeopath is assigned to the new case and takes the case with me as the back-up homeopath. On Saturday night after the clinic class all the students must write up the case, select a remedy and defend their choice. On Sunday morning we study various groupings, if necessary we see additional follow ups and then on Sunday afternoon, we discuss, explain, argue, and finally select a remedy and potency for the patient that had been seen on Saturday. The student who took the case is also in charge of patient management. Case management decisions are made through a group email system with my input and supervision.
(The clinic at the New York School of Homeopathy operates on a pro bono basis. The patient signs a waiver allowing us to use the video for teaching purposes. This is such a great service to the homeopathic community on the part of the patient that we feel it is adequate payment for services rendered.)
During the interview I allow the student homeopath to use the case taking method he/she feels most comfortable with. When the student has finished his/her own line of questioning, I often take over. Of course, as students get more and more proficient, my participation in the interview process becomes less and less necessary. When I do take over the interview, I use the various techniques that I have mostly learned from different homeopaths from around the world, including the teachings of Dr. Rajan Sankaran, Dr. Paresh Vasani, and Dr. Divya Chhabra. Using these techniques I am hoping to bring the patient to the “experience” of his/her problem, and in doing that I am hoping that the patient will express the “experience” of the source of the precise remedy the patient needs. In clinic, we find that most patients are ready, able and willing to go to this “experience” or “source” level, and when they do, the response to the remedy is profound and lasting. Our favorite patients are the ones who are able to reveal the “source” or “experience” of a well known remedy because in these cases we are able to see that the repertory (or materia medica) information provided by the patient matches the “source” information. These cases help confirm the usefulness of this method .
Blending Repertory Work With Modern Case-taking Methods
All of this work at NYSH is blended with the study of and practice with the repertory and the study of acute prescribing. Repertory work is mandatory at NYSH and the students are tested on the repertory at mid-term and final exams each year. In the clinic, students are allowed to analyze the case with whatever method they prefer to use, but it is crucial for everyone to learn all of the methods including the repertory, so they can use it when that is the proper tool to use. In some cases the patient cannot go to the “experience” or the “source,” and so using symptoms which can be repertorized and combined with big ideas, can sometimes be the only way to find the correct remedy.
At NYSH, we have sometimes been unfairly criticized for working with new methods of case taking and analysis. I assume this criticism comes from critics with a more fundamentalist view of homeopathic education, along with a certain amount of envy of the profound success that can occur as a result of helping a patient reveal the experience of the source of the remedy. We believe that students need to learn all methods of case taking and analysis in order to be prepared for working with real, live, patients. I find it unfortunate when information is withheld from students of homeopathy in the name of “Classical Homeopathy.” I am certain that Hahnemann would be embracing the new work that many of us do to find the true simillimum or “to cure as it is termed.” The medical art of homeopathy and homeopathic education should always be growing larger, not smaller, and needs to be expansive in scope, never restrictive.