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Coined by Samuel Hahnemann, who originated the practice in the late 1700s, the word “homeopathy” is derived from the Greek words for “similar suffering”, referring to the “like cures like” principle of healing put forward by the pioneer of pharmacology, Paracelsus, who declared in the 16th century that “small doses of what makes a man ill also cure him”. Homeopathy promotes the body’s innate self-healing response through medicine similar to the condition: potency and prescribed doses vary according to each person’s symptoms. The medicines are specially prepared from natural materials using a potentising process that involves serial dilution with intercurrent succussion (vigorous shaking). And this is the aspect of homeopathy many people find implausible: that medicines are often diluted to the point where no molecules of original substance remain.

The British Homeopathic Association explains that a leading current proposal for how such “ultramolecular” dilutions work is that water is capable of storing information relating to substances with which it has previously been in contact. Research on hydrogen bonds in water provides support for this “memory” theory. Swiss chemist Louis Rey found the structure of hydrogen bonds in homeopathic dilutions of salt solutions is very different from that in pure water. He reached the conclusion that the phenomenon results from the vigorous shaking of solutions. Other researchers, using the laboratory technique spectroscopy, have found that different homeopathic medicines and different dilutions of the same medicine can be distinguished from one another, even though all should contain nothing but water.

Worldwide, over 200 million people use homeopathy, with the practice incorporated into the national health systems of Brazil, Chile, India, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, according to the UK-based Homeopathy Research Institute (https://www.hri-research.org/). A 2016 survey from the Massachusetts General Hospital found a small segment of the US population uses homeopathic medicines for common conditions such as colds. The users, particularly those who also visit homeopathic practitioners, find these products helpful.

At the time of writing, no courses were available for enrolment in Australia as all Australian homoeopathic degree and advanced diploma courses were in teach-out mode from December 2015 to December 2018, according to the Australian Register of Homeopaths (AROH). AROH adds that the UK School of Homeopathy, which currently has AROH course accreditation, is offering a qualification by distance/online mode that is eligible for enrolment by Australians. However, it would need to be completed by the end of teach out (December 2018) to be eligible for AROH registration upon graduation. Online-only training might not be acceptable to some professional associations: ATMS, for example, requires that all supervised clinical training be completed by face-to-face practical training.

Homeopath Christine Pope advises students to “sit in with other's clinics and get as much experience as possible with student clinic. They call it 'practice' for a reason! Time invested in understanding how a business runs will ensure you’re able to make a living. Analytical personalities who can assess a range of symptoms and match them to an appropriate remedy make good homeopaths. Being part science and part art, a little creativity is helpful, too. Don't be a homeopath if you don't like research and reading about different remedies. The process of determining the remedy can be intensive, and you need to be prepared to change your prescription as things evolve. Hahnemann specifically said it was not suited to those who like a life of ease.”

For more information: Australian Homoeopathic Association (www.homeopathyoz.org), The Australian Register of Homeopaths (www.aroh.com.au), ATMS (www.atms.com.au).