Published in the Society of Homeopaths Journal, Autumn 2012
Every kind of relationship has to be worked at, including the therapeutic one. But how do we work at relationships effectively? And where do we start? Rowena Ronson and Nigel Summerley examine this vital issue from different angles…
The first time I went to see a homeopath I spent ninety minutes Spanish Inquisitioning him about every aspect of homeopathy and what it was all about. As well as answering all my questions he was able to ask me some of his own, observe my responses and prescribe a wonderful remedy, and there my relationship with homeopathy began.
But is it all about the remedy? At the start of my journey that was certainly what I was looking for and having never experienced any kind of therapy before, I wasn’t appreciative at all of the therapeutic relationship. I was not aware of how the homeopath needed to be wise enough to understand me, self-aware enough to be able to see me objectively, awake enough to listen to and observe me, and strong enough to hold the space for me to feel safe and trusting.
Over the years I have visited homeopaths both male and female, classical, complex and combining, ones that use machines to prescribe or make their remedies, ones that are surrounded by old books and/or new computer programmes, subscribers to new methods and old. Some work on the case on their computers as part of the consultation, and with others it is like visiting a counsellor. Some have looked to develop a relationship with me and booked me in for a next appointment at the end of a session, their style implying an ongoing process of healing, and others have waved me goodbye on their doorstep, never asking for feedback on their prescription or offering continued care. And my role models, in one way or another, have influenced how I practise homeopathy myself.
Learning how to develop the therapeutic relationship with our patients, in my opinion, is as important as understanding the repertory and materia medica, pathology, philosophy and all other aspects of homeopathy in practice. Without it our patients can almost be like ships passing us by in the night, not understanding, appreciating or receiving the potential of what homeopathy and working alongside a homeopath can provide. I see my role as the gateway for my patients to work alongside me to assist change in their lives in order to aid restoration of their health on all levels. By building our relationship we develop a two-way communication that implies process, education and healing.
And for me our healing relationship with our patients starts with a similar one with ourselves. If we are not in balance, taking responsibility for our behaviour and development as a person, taking care of our health holistically, in effect ‘walking our talk’, how can we expect to be professional practitioners of homeopathic medicine and suitable role models for our patients?
Reflecting on our own relationship with ourselves and others and on our relationship with our patients is fundamental in order to have a successful, ongoing and fulfilling practice in all ways.
And how we each individually develop our relationship with our patients creates the bigger picture of how we are seen by the public as a whole. If we offer just one session, do not offer education into a more holistic way for our patients to view their health, do not explain how homeopathy works and its potential for long-term healthcare, and do not develop an effective therapeutic relationship with our patients, we create the wrong image for our profession.
Which comes first? The healing relationship with ourselves? Or with others?
Can one know oneself in isolation? Or is it only through the mirror of relationship that one can see oneself? You can go into the desert alone for 40 days and 40 nights and have revelations (or hallucinations). However, spend 40 days and 40 nights in the company of other human beings and you may have some real insight into what you yourself are — by being aware of the effect that you have on others.
But is such awareness possible? A major obstacle to our being aware is our imagination — literally, the creation of images. And this is something that our brains are all too adept at.
I create an image of who I think you are, while you create an image of who you think I am. And we have also both created our own self-images. What hope is there of real relationship in this tangle of multiple images, all of them almost certainly false in some way?
If this process of imagination could stop, perhaps I could be aware of everything about you and vice versa (and we could also see in each other what we are responsible for creating). It’s easier said than embraced, but if we could dispense with the images we have of ourselves and of others, there would be a chance of real relationship.
To be effective therapists, homeopaths must have some awareness of this tangle of images
that we weave. They need to be aware of what they may be bringing of themselves into the therapeutic relationship. And they also need to realise that the patient is likely to be lacking in self-awareness, and the “person” presented to the homeopath is, to a great degree, the image that the patient has of themselves.
The homeopath has a need not only to see themselves without an image (ie be free of the self) but also to be aware of everything going on with the patient: the patient’s own self-image, their image of the homeopath, and, if possible, the actuality (the REAL reality) of the patient.
The patient’s self-image is not irrelevant to the case — far from it. But as well as taking this into account, we need to be prepared to dig deeper, to get to the heart of the patient — and the heart of the case.
The day-to-day complexity of reality mixed with multiple images is what can make relationships of all kinds so often daunting. But surely human life IS relationship, not isolation. If we do not engage with fellow human beings, we do not live fully, and we risk never discovering who we really are. Solitary quests for self-knowledge, self-help, self-improvement, although sounding laudable, have limits and can lead us up blind alleys. Monks, nuns and hermits are escape artists, not people engaging fully with life.
So what do we do? Perhaps, as homeopaths, we almost need to learn “on the job”. We may learn to be effective healers only by throwing ourselves into the healing relationship, while at the same time doing our best to throw our “self” away.
Relationships, including the one with ourselves, are at the heart of most people’s lives. And yet they may also be at the heart of most people’s problems. It is tempting at times to think life would be easier without relationships. As homeopaths, we seem to have a special responsibility not to shirk from being as self-aware as we can be, and at the same time not to neglect the importance of relationships with all those people who come to us in our practices — and in our lives.