Let's say you've taken a long walk in the woods, and you've managed to get a nasty case of poison ivy. Chances are, the last thing you'd want to go near at that point is more poison ivy. But imagine this: You go to an alternative practitioner to find relief from the itch and get asked a lot of questions, many of which you think have nothing to do with your rash. Then the practitioner gives you a substance that works the same way poison ivy does, in the form of a pill. The poison-ivy-type substance inside the pill has been diluted so many times, there's barely a trace of it left. Your practitioner explains that the same type of substance that caused your misery, when diluted to such a degree, may help cure it. This is one of the main beliefs on which the practice of homeopathy is based. back to top
What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is based on the theory that "like cures like," or that what makes you sick can also help make you feel better. For example, if you have a cough, a homeopath may treat you by finding a substance that causes a cough like the one you have, then giving you a pill that contains a very tiny amount of that substance to tell your brain to fight the cough. More than 2,000 such substances are used in homeopathy today. back to top
What kinds of health conditions does a homeopath treat?
Some homeopaths treat a range of health conditions, just as a medical doctor does. The areas in which homeopathy may be more effective, however, tend to be ones that mainstream medicine doesn't have a lot to offer for.
While there is not a lot of scientific evidence that homeopathy works, some homeopaths have had success in treating teenagers. Once reason may be that homeopaths take other things into consideration—such as emotional and social factors—in addition to physical symptoms. back to top
What does a homeopath do?
About one-third of homeopaths have been trained in medical school, just like other health professionals. But when you're sick, a homeopath treats you, not your disease. He or she looks at all aspects of your life, including your personality, your physical health, and your social life, to find out what's making you sick.
A homeopath prescribes homeopathic remedies
. These remedies are made from plants, minerals, and other natural substances. Even though some may come from herbs, homeopathic remedies are highly diluted and are not the same as herbal remedies. back to top
What is a visit to a homeopath like?
A visit to a homeopath starts out like a visit to any health professional. You fill out some paperwork, including your name, address, date of birth, height, and weight. You may also be asked about your health in the past.
The actual session with a homeopath, however, is more like an interview than a physical examination. You may be asked about your home life, what subjects you like at school, whether you get angry or upset easily, your favorite foods, or how well you sleep. A homeopath uses your answers to create a profile that helps him or her understand you better, which is key to treating you.
A physical examination is not part of a visit to a homeopath. However, if you have a visible condition, such as a rash, a homeopath will look at it during your visit. back to top
How long do homeopathic medicines take to work?
Homeopathic remedies are believed to work by boosting your body's own healing power. Sometimes this can take more than 24 hours. If you're using homeopathic remedies to treat an ongoing condition, you should know within six weeks whether it's helping you.
Because everyone is different, homeopaths often have to try more than one remedy before they find the right one for a particular person. Working with a homeopath can require time and patience. Most homeopaths will encourage you to stick with it for a year before giving up. back to top
How would I find a homeopath in my area?
Before you choose a homeopath, you'll need to do a bit of homework. First, get a list of homeopaths in your area. You may find some listed in your phone book under "homeopathy."
Once you have your list, call the homeopaths on it and do a short telephone interview with each. First, ask about educational background. One-third of all homeopaths are medical doctors (M.D.s), which may be a good first qualification to look for. Whether or not the homeopath is an M.D., however, you will want to make sure he or she has a C.C.H., which stands for "certified in classical homeopathy."
Next, ask the homeopath what percentage of his or her patients are young adults, teenagers, and children. Because homeopathy focuses on treating the "whole" person, you'll want to make sure the homeopath you choose has experience treating people your age.
Finally, since homeopathy is usually not covered under health insurance, you may want to ask the homeopath how many visits he or she would recommend so that you can get an idea of how much the treatment will cost.
To find a homeopath in your area, visit the website
of the National Center for Homeopathy. back to top
Can I take homeopathic remedies on my own?
As with many kinds of alternative medicine, it's better to have a homeopathic practitioner work with you on finding the right remedy for your condition. But many people do take homeopathic remedies on their own. Homeopathic remedies are most commonly available in tablet or pill form and can be bought at a health-food store. back to top
When self-treating with homeopathic remedies, it's important to remember to stop taking a remedy when your symptoms improve. If you have taken several doses of a remedy, and your symptoms aren't better, you may want to try a different remedy. Remember though, if you don't get better in a couple of days, you should talk with your health professional or contact a homeopath in your area. back to top