This article marks the inception of a new tradition for The American Homeopath. In each issue we will focus on a different Professional Homeopathic Society from around the globe, inquiring into their history, standards of operation, and ways in which they serve their professional homeopathic community. We hope this tradition will not only inspire new ideas for our own growing Society, but also bring to light new ways in which we may cooperate to enrich, and build bridges to, our global homeopathic community.
By David Riley
First stop, United Kingdom! This is the most obvious place to begin, as the British Society of Homeopaths is a success story by anyone’s standards. Now celebrating its 20th year in existence, with a total of 2,500 members in all, the Society has established and maintained a solid and coherent Homeopathic Profession which continues to thrive and grow throughout England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. They have pioneered the development of the independent professional Homeopath, one with a strong identity and clear function. The Society has been like an elder sibling role model not only for NASH, but for many Professional Homeopathic Organizations around the world. I had, in the last few weeks, the great pleasure of interviewing three of the Society’s key organizers-Mary Clarke (General Secretary), Graz Baran (Director of Education), and Stephen Gordon (Director of Political Affairs). What follows is a collective summary of our conversations.
The Society was born in 1978, the same year in which the first homeopathic college-The College of Homeopathy-was established. Both were brought into being by a small group of homeopaths who had been taught apprentice style and in small classes by two older homeopaths, John Damonte and Thomas Maugham. It was this small group of homeopaths who became the nucleus of the Society’s first register. Two of these founding members also started the College with the intention of creating a solid educational basis for the training of future professional homeopaths. Stephen Gordon, who attended the college in its first year, was one of the pioneering students who underwent the initially experimental education and training this first course offered. He explains, “The primary difficulty that the Society faced in its early years was building up the register of members, because of the lack of formal training schools. With limited membership also came limited resources, and the initial stages of the society’s progress were slow.”
Originally, they appointed nine directors, and most worked with the society and in homeopathy on a part-time basis. They wrote a Code of Ethics, Membership Criteria, and meanwhile, inspired by the society and the first college more schools gradually opened. Ten years later, in 1988, the Society was able to establish a permanent office and to engage a full-time General Secretary, Mary Clarke, who has been working for the Society ever since.
Now, in 1998, to observe the Society in action is like watching a prima ballerina-they make it look so easy! The premises in Northampton are very busy five days a week-and some weekends! The Society generates a substantial income approaching $750,000 US annually, mainly from subscriptions. The managing board still has nine Directors, but there are now an increasing number of paid positions including five fully paid permanent staff positions. They publish a quarterly journal and newsletter, as well as a student newsletter, oversee a charity organization for patient support, and host one of the largest annual case conferences worldwide.
Of the current 2,500 members, approximately 600 are fully registered members, 700 licensed members, 200 probationary members, 650 student members, and 300 subscriber members. Once a student graduates from homeopathic college, s/he can automatically register as a licensed member. Application for registered membership can occur after one year in practice and requires ten written cases, a site visit, and various other criteria. Probationary members are students in their final year of college who have started taking cases and need insurance. Subscriber members include homeopaths who are insured members of other homeopathic organizations (i.e. doctors), people who are trained homeopaths but are not in practice, and some members of the general public who wish to receive Society information. Ninety-eight percent of registered members join the Society via one of the recognized college courses, and the other 2% through external examination.
All Society members receive the journal and the newsletter, the Code of Ethics, the Register, and many other informational documents. They have access to patient leaflets such as “Homeopathy Simply Explained” and “Homeopathy for Pregnancy and Childbirth” and receive lower entrance fees to seminars. Probationary, licensed and Registered members receive quite extensive insurance, for a relatively cheap premium, including malpractice, public liability, and professional indemnity (for remedy damage, lost documents, slander, and legal fees). Once fully registered, members are listed in the society directory. Ten thousand copies of the register are printed every six months, and distributed to libraries, health food shops, pharmacies, individuals, etc. Registered members may also advertise under the Society’s corporate banner -the Society’s high national profile contributes to professional reputation and attracts many patients. By virtue of the Society’s reputation, Registered membership warrants both public recognition and peer recognition, which is so important after the many years of study and practice that is required for membership.
Politically, the Society continues to make great progress. They have good relationships with medically trained homeopaths and other health professions, securing the role of the professional homeopath within the larger health care framework. Stephen Gordon explains that in the early years, the Society fell prey to much hostility from the Faculty of Homeopaths (who registers MD homeopaths). The Faculty was both protective of their own “territory” and concerned that homeopaths of the Society were not adequately trained to perform the duties of homeopathy, which they have tried to establish as a branch of the medical profession. Gradually, however, the new generation of medically-trained homeopaths has become more amiable towards Society members, many from both camps trained together with George Vithoulkas and Vassilis Ghegas in the early eighties. The Prince of Wales called a meeting between the Society and the Faculty of Homeopaths in 1994 to facilitate greater mutual respect and cooperation amongst all homeopaths. This initial meeting was held, and the two groups have continued to meet regularly over the last few years. “The quality of the discussion has grown,” says Stephen, “and though we are not necessarily working together coherently, there is certainly much more mutual respect between us.”
Stephen and other Society members have also attended meetings with the Department of Health, in collaboration with other major “complementary” health professions-acupuncturists, osteopaths, herbalists. On this front, the Society must decide, together with two or three other smaller associations of homeopaths, and possibly the Faculty, whether to go down the path of statutory backing of self-regulation, in which the profession would regulate itself within a statutory framework. This would include ‘Protection of Title,’ meaning no one not on the national register could call themselves a homeopath, registered homeopath, homeopathic practitioner, etc. (Now, as in the US, anyone can call himself a homeopath).
Legally speaking, the UK Society has faced different challenges to those NASH faces. The UK legal system is based on the principle of Common Law (as is Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, excluding Quebec), which legally permits the practice of homeopathy. Basically, under Common Law, anyone can do anything, unless it is specifically outlawed. This is the opposite of Napoleonic Law, in which nothing is legal, unless specifically written as law. This has been a tremendous advantage in the UK, as homeopathy has been able to become fairly well integrated into the health care system. Patients may have treatment through the National Health Service (NHS) with a doctor’s referral. Some Society members now work at NHS clinics. With the union of the European Community, the Society was concerned about the implications for its members, as various other European countries (e.g. France) outlaw the practice of homeopathy by anyone other than medical doctors. They have formed the European Council of Classical Homeopathy which now represents the interests of professional homeopaths in Europe, particularly with the increasingly influential European Commission and Parliament.
Friends of homeopathy
A significant force for gaining public support and raising awareness of homeopathy in Great Britain has been the Society’s charity organization, “Friends of Homeopathy.” Now in operation for eight years, Friends is supported by membership (homeopathic patients), donations, book sales, etc. “The purpose of the organization is to the galvanize support of homeopathic patients so that they have a voice in spreading the word after they’ve been successfully treated,” says Mary Clarke, “of raising awareness that there is another way.” Friends of Homeopathy has formed local groups around the country which run seminars on various healthrelated topics. They publish cured cases in national and local magazines and hold conferences in which media stars have come to speak about their own experiences as homeopathic patients. Friends of Homeopathy has contributed tremendously to homeopathy’s high media profile in Britain. The fund raising activity of Friends supports the Society of Homeopaths Trust, created at the same time as Friends, which is a charity specifically created to raise and channel funds for the purposes of research and education.
Perhaps the greatest strides being made by the Society are in the sphere of education and registration. Graz Baran explains how the Society is taking a completely fresh look at assessing candidates for Registered Membership. “The old system of assessment,” says Graz, “involves only one type of assessment, ‘Top Down,’ which is an authoritarian system in which the experts assess the candidates.” A pilot scheme, conducted in November ’98, will be looking at a new set of criteria. “What we want to encourage is much more self-assessment. Because of the innate responsibility in the job of the homeopath, confidence must come from within.” The five basic components of the new scheme are:
1. A small audit around some area of the individual’s practice of which s/he wishes to improve.
2. A reflective piece of writing about what the individual has done since leaving college, including ways in which s/he developed as a practitioner, with case examples to illustrate.
3. Site visit to observe 1 new patient and 1 follow-up and discussion on the complete application.
4. An essay and plan of continuing professional development.
5. Comments by the applicant on the performance of the assessor.
Inclusive in the pilot is a course designed to train registered members to become registered assessors, based on clear criteria.
Unlike the “Top-Down” system, the new “Three-Tier” system includes self, peer, and professional assessment. It will give the applicant an opportunity to comment on the performance of the assessor, completing the assessment circle, and thus empowering the applicant, and granting him/her the respect deserved of an adult practitioner. This progressive structure is similar to the one used by the British nursing profession. Graz feels, “The more we embark on this work, the more we will be recognized by the government and by others.”
Conclusion: bridging the atlantic
The British Society has been generous to NASH, offering their registration standards and other information in which to support NASH’s growth. The Registrars of the two Societies are in regular contact, and many informal links exist in the form of homeopaths with joint membership. All three people that I interviewed stressed that the Society is ready and willing to help NASH at any stage, that they really want NASH to succeed, as part of their own global community. They encouraged more exchange of ideas in the form of education and seminars, and participation in the International Council for Classical Homeopathy (ICCH). But they also stressed the importance that NASH grow its own roots and form its own distinct identity. They also felt that they could learn a lot from NASH, with its young energy and new ideas.
The Society of Homeopaths (UK) has come a long way in the past twenty years. Most impressive is that with all their success and accomplishments, they have not become complacent, but continue to inspire new energy, self-reflection, and continuous growth in the organization. Surely these are the ingredients of continued future strength for professional homeopaths of Great Britain and around the world.
[For more information on the pilot scheme of assessment and new core criteria, contact the Society of Homoeopaths, 2 Artizan Road, Northampton NN1, 4HU, email: societyofhomoeopaths btinternet.com, Tel. 01604 621400]