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Homeopathy - a celebrity's endorsement or not?

The Faculty of Homeopathy is drawing the attention of supporters to "an excellent article" in The Mail Online.

This link takes you to a page where the actress Michelle Collins, who has appeared in East Enders and Coronation Street, describes how she gave up conventional medicine and moved to homeopathy to help her anxiety and depression. This was successful and she now feels much better.

But what is odd about this recommendation by the Faculty is that the article has an inset with a "Expert View" by Dr Ellie Cannon, who says that she does not reommend homeopathy to her patients because more than 150 trials have failed to show that it works.

Homeopathy’s dilution theory – that water ‘remembers’ the active ingredients it comes into contact with – is implausible. If it were true, water would also remember other substances – bacteria, animal waste or the test-tube the remedy was made in.

So how do I explain the positive effects some people experience? Michelle had crucial time and input from a therapist who listened to her worries. It helped her develop a positive mental attitude about coping with her anxiety. I believe it is this that has led to the improvement in her condition.

The placebo effect is real and powerful. So even though the pills are inert, treatment will ease the symptoms of stress. That is why taking a remedy before a show helps to control the panic. But the pill itself could just as well be a sugar lump.

Given the traumatic times Michelle has had, it is so important that she has found something that works for her. But as a general solution for others it would not work.

I think that Dr Collins gets it exactly right here. Homeopathy is best regarded as a form of psychotherapy. Please see my book Homeopathy in Perspective.

Psychotherapy today uses many different theories but it originated with Freud and psychoanalysis. The psychiatrist Anthony Storr was sceptical about much psychoanalytic theory but nevertheless thought that psychoanalysis could have beneficial effects on patients.
. . .
Much or all of homeopathic theory may be mistaken, and the remedies themselves may have little objective efficacy or even none at all, but patients often get better nevertheless. To say that this is due to the placebo effect is to beg the question, because we have only hazy notions about how placebos work anyway. For many patients, especially those whose symptoms really arise from their life situation, merely stating their problems verbally is sometimes enough to put them in a new light and to suggest the direction to look for a solution. In such cases the therapist is merely a sounding board; indeed, even a computer will do as a listener for some people. Many others do need a human individual to interact with, however.

So is the therapist no more than a sympathetic friend? No; this is where the theory comes in. It often doesn’t matter much what a therapist’s theoretical beliefs are (provided they are not actually dangerous, of course); their function in many cases is not to be “right” but to provide a framework to keep the discussion in focus.

Michelle's endorsement illustrates this extremely well.


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John Floyd on :

When I was in primary care, close to half my female patients (and some of the men) did not expect me to fix or cure them, but wanted acknowledgement of their discomfort to know that they were being listened to by a sympathetic and understanding human, even be it under the artificial guise of a professional consultation. They were always happy to receive a prescription, but I suspect a number of them never had it filled.

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