Why I left Homeopathy

I saw lots of patients get better with homeopathy. Rashes disappeared, aches and pains resolved, phobias improved and energy levels went up. I even treated an infertile couple and within 6 months, they conceived their first child which they named after me!

But many patients would just not return after 3 or 4 treatments and I would never know if they improved or not.  And as I reflected on the cures, I saw that they were mostly on those with normally self-limited maladies or with vague symptoms.  From the beginning I was skeptic but my skepticism grew.

After practicing Homeopathy for two years, I decided to test my skepticism. I went through some 200 charts of patients I had managed by myself and did a tally of those with significant improvement, non-impressive improvement and no improvement. I also kept track of the severity of the condition and if I felt it was self-limited or had a large psychological component.

Many of you will be unsurprised to hear that about 30% of my patients showed significant improvement. This is the rate we expect with placebo — and I was not treating patients with serious illnesses like cancer, insulin dependent diabetes, congestive heart failure, parkinson disease or the like.

I used that chart review information to give myself the courage to quit the clinic. “Why courage?”, you may ask: I had invested a lot of myself in homeopathy–a certification program, lots of books, intense study, 2-years of clinical practice,  colleague study groups, debates with lots of folks. But mostly, I liked my mentor a great deal and respected him. He had invested a lot of time to train me and encourage me.  So it was hard to disappoint him. But he was gracious and I left Homeopathy and never returned.

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14 responses to “Why I left Homeopathy

  1. imarriedaxtian

    It takes enormous amount of courage to admit one is wrong, especially when one have invested a substantial amount of one’s resources in pursuit of a goal. I will never ask you why. I wish I had your strength.

  2. Hi I-Married,
    Good to see thee again. Thank you kindly. Ya know, it was hard, but “courage” was not what it felt like — it felt like integrity. It felt like I was protecting something dear (integrity) and thus the loss of all those investments and of some pride was worth the integrity. But to be honest, it is very, very hard to accurately introspect on all that. I really don’t know.

    You said, “I will never ask you why.” <– what did you mean by that. You may ask, but "why" what? Again, good to hear from you. How is your Christian husband and you doing on the cultural-difference challenge? Do you think he could admit he was wrong. Or, geez, could you? Smile.

  3. Can you say more about what made you increasingly skeptical? And also, why you weren’t skeptical enough, when first getting into homeopathy, to look into statistical evidence?

    Do you think your mind-set was changing during this period more generally? E.g., did your work as as a PA drive you toward a more empirical world view? Or were you pushed away from alternative stuff due to figuring out that most people in the area were fooling themselves?

    Or was it really driven by the data itself? How did you notice the pattern of “cures happen mostly only to syndromes that would have gone away anyway”? How much of a surprise was this?

    I ask these questions because your transition seems quite rare, and it would be useful if we could draw any lessons about how people escape wrong belief-systems (even from n=1).

  4. Hello David
    Did I tell ya I like the pic? 🙂
    Great questions. Many of these I hoped to answer in future posts. But I shall print yours out to remind myself. I see these series much like your “Approaching Aro” as a gradual build. In the end I actually daydream of doing a little YouTube on it — long way off.
    I have never met anyone like myself who has given up their “calling from God” in Alternative medicine. Please stay on me with questions. Perhaps, through this you can help me build something of value to someone.
    As you know, I think that the same mind that build fantastic religious systems and is drawn to the fantastic is easily drawn to both religious magical worlds and miraculous medicines. Yet I think part of what makes those minds is also valuable when applied correctly. Alt Med people and Orthodox med people want to call each other totally blind. Likewise with the religious and irreligious. But if habits of mind form our ideologies, we best look at the mind before the ideologies.

    Sorry, busy work day and just had a cup of wine.
    Thank again, keep on top of me. It is very helpful.

  5. freeze43

    Impressive dedication to the statistics, I commend you.

  6. A question or two.

    Is it possible to get the “placebo effect” without actually taking a placebo? I mean to say, if you hadn’t treated those people do you think they would have eventually gotten better with no “treatment”. Did they need a mental catalyst of some sort to finally help their conditions?

  7. i guess i missed your breaking point in the story. i’m guessing it is some where in this paragraph:

    “Many of you will be unsurprised to hear that about 30% of my patients showed significant improvement. This is the rate we expect with placebo — and I was not treating patients with serious illnesses like cancer, insulin dependent diabetes, congestive heart failure, parkinson disease or the like.”

    your patients improved, that’s good right? did you have patients with ‘serious illnesses’ like you listed as well and that control group had no improvement? just looking for clarity in the story. thanks.

  8. @ freeze.
    Not as virtuous as it may appear. Please hang in for future posts.

    @ terri.
    Good question. We call the the “Natural Course” or the disease or condition. And you are right. Some of the improvements might be due to natural course — many perhaps.

    @ Zero.
    Yep that was it. Improving is good, yes. The vast majority did not have serious illnesses.

  9. A great (and rather sobering) post, S.

    It sounds like there is a pattern here to your interests and careers (please forgive my moment of folk-psychology here). You seem to start things with emotionally strong experiences (religious identity, respect for your mentor, your introduction to acupuncture), commit to the very marrow by diving in, but all the while holding everything to a ruthless and constant evaluation.
    It’s honest, and very inspiring, but sounds like it can be incredibly taxing on a person at times.

    Did you share your study with your mentor or investigate any other similar studies for comparison (if others were available)?

  10. @ Andrew G
    Thanx, Andrew. Actually, I begin things with a very large curiosity base — not sure about the emotions — folks would not typify me as emotional. Friends may typify me as very curious and explorative and not normal.
    But you are right about the “ruthless” (I like that word) skepticism — I have had it since I am young. That, plus I have no fear of asking and no fear of appearing stupid — this has helped me in languages!

    I never viewed it as too taxing because the exploration always seems worth it. Even if I leave much behind.

    Yes, I shared the study with my mentor, but he could tell that I had decided and respectfully agreed to a peaceful departing.

  11. Austine Wallace

    I don’t think you need to consider whether or not you are helping people on a huge scale, it is enough if anything you have done has helped even a dozen people.

  12. I agree, Austine. Well, I hope its true.

  13. fifi

    Maybe you weren’t a good doctor
    Or it’s the homeopathic drugs. (some firms are just not serious)
    You admit you saw patients getting better with homeopathy, it’s enough for me. You don’t go to an homeopath when you have a cancer, but when you want to cure some terrain disease, it’s working, and it’s not working with allopathy. Allopathy is unable to cure my allergies, I tried many years, homeo and better food did the trick (yes both!)
    You’re right when you mock the religious because they talk about peace and they are rude and aggressive with each other.
    I think you experienced a great disappointment.
    There’s horrible scam and good things in “alternative” medicine but don’t be too extremist, some atheists, by their war against religion can be worse than religious. Moderation and humanism, never think a group is apart from you because they think in a different way.
    Sorry for my bad English.

  14. @ fifi:
    Of course I wasn’t a good doctor.
    I see patients getting better on placebo, on nothing, on voodoo. The point is, getting better often has nothing to do with the purported cause.
    Glad your allergies got better, glad your moderation is better than mine.

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