• The Works

Going Undercover – Homeopathy

I don’t blog very often, but when I do……

Here in Salisbury we have a homeopathy college. I’ve mentioned it before, as it hires premises from St Thomas’s church, which sees no problem with telling lies about how the body works. I noticed that the college was running an open day, to recruit more students. The event was today, so I booked in.

In fact it wasn’t the whole day, just the morning. It turned out that only three people booked a place. One was a no show, leaving just two – a very nice young lady, and me. So they only had one genuine punter. The programme kicked off with a chat with one of the tutors, Joanna Shipley. On the table was a copy of Hahnemann’s Organon, which she told us was the source of all knowledge. It was extolled as the updated version and was its sixth revision. I asked about its date of publication. It turned out that the actual text was from 1843. I asked whether it was OK to use homeopathy in combination with conventional medicine, and Joanna said yes of course – but with the caveat that while homeopathy does not interact with drugs, drugs can inactivate homeopathy. I then mentioned Hahnemann’s dictum that homeopaths who used allopathy were traitors, to which Joanna explained that he was a man of his time and that conventional medicine has moved on. The latter was more likely to do harm than good in Hahnemann’s day (with which I agreed). I might have said that yes real medicine has moved on, but here we are relying on a book from 1843, but didn’t want to blow my cover. In among all sorts of complex explanations, the `vital force’ came up, which I chose not to challenge.

Joanna explained that the course they run is not a degree, because all those have been dropped by the universities. I asked why that is the case, and she said that there has been a great deal of negative pressure by sceptics, led by Sense About Science and Edzard Ernst, who she explained had been appointed to the chair of complementary medicine in Exeter but simply didn’t like homeopathy. I expressed surprise that the universities had keeled over so easily, but she said all this was reinforced by negative stories in newspapers such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. Joanna felt that as a result applications from students had declined dramatically and it wasn’t financially viable to run the courses any more. She did say though that they were seeing an uplift in student numbers so were more hopeful (not if today’s showing was typical).

The course they run is regulated by The Society of Homeopaths (which is accredited by the Professional Standards Authority) and they are very pleased to have received the SoH’s teaching innovation award every year from 2012 to 2017.

We were then taken to sit in on a lecture that was running – part of the actual licenciate course. As tends to be typical, the students were 10 women and one man. The tutor was Annie Batchelor, college principal, and today’s topic was remedies which include gold. We came in as Annie was discussing the remedy Aurum Mur Nat, which is (I looked it up later) sodium tetrachloroaurate. She focussed initially on sodium, which the group agreed caused water retention and dryness, the latter manifested by dry mucus membranes and eyes (for example). The chlorine atom didn’t get a lot of attention, but what struck me was how this discussion was totally unrelated to chemistry. The three elements in the compound were discussed as separate entities with separate properties, yet I have known from secondary school that properties of compounds usually are totally different from their constituent elements. Sodium tetrachloroaurate doesn’t apparently cause water retention, but is a severe irritant. She seemed to be confusing it with common salt.

The majority of the session focussed on gold itself. This was an exercise in sympathetic magic. Gold is associated with wealth, success and esteem, so there was lots of discussion about the personalities of `gold-type’ people. Annie talked about a homeopath (sorry I forgot the name) who established that our lives are related to the periodic table of the elements. We apparently start out on the left of the table, so young people are more like say alkali metals. She didn’t say anything about inert gases (on the right of the table), but gold is near the middle so relates to people in their most productive and successful years. How the compound of gold (middle) sodium (left) and chlorine (right) works was not explained. There was no discussion of physical conditions – it was all about personality types. I was amazed at the complexity of all this. Homeopaths have endless ways of categorising people. None of it seems to have been validated.

All the students were busily making notes, as you would expect, but none of them challenged a word of this. They seemed to revel in parroting the standard wisdom of homeopathy. They will each pay at least £9890 to complete the course, and it grieves me to see supposedly intelligent people wasting so much money on this gobbledegook.

The lecture ended, and I had a chance to question Joanna again. I said that the lecture seemed to be entirely about psychology – was this typical? No said Joanna, but most of the time a mental state is the cause of illness. I asked if my myeloma was caused by a mental state, which triggered some prevarication. She said they they were not allowed to claim benefits for cancer because of The Cancer Act. She then talked about experience at the Bristol centre, run by Dr Liz Thompson. I was told that whereas Thompson can’t publish claims because of the said Act, she has given presentations in which she described patients whose cancer had been cured after homeopathy.

We then had a wrap-up session with Annie, whose task presumably was to get us to commit to a four-year part-time course. There was the usual discount for signing up on the day. This was supposed to be an opportunity to ask questions, but Annie was so fired up that it was hard to get a word in edgeways. I was going to mention CEASE therapy anyway, but she got in first and divulged that they teach it on the course. Some of the tutors are qualified CEASE therapists, including Joanna. This is interesting in view of the storm that The Society of Homeopaths is sailing into right now. Briefly, the PSA has placed the SoH on notice to discipline members who practise it, on pain of losing its accreditation. The team in Salisbury must be aware of this, but they didn’t mention it.

Earlier Joanna had mentioned `detoxing’, so I asked Annie to enlighten me. I said that in my previous career I did a lot of work in pharmacokinetics, whereby we could give a certain dose of drug and trace it quantitatively through the body. I asked how they knew what was being eliminated by `detoxing’. She said that nobody was going to do the tests because “who would pay for it?” This was a recurring theme, of pleading lack of funds for research, yet she repeatedly referred me to the Homeopathy Research Institute which apparently does the research. The HRI is a charity, and had income in 2017 of £252,987, of which just over half was spent on funding external projects. It’s not a huge sum, but funding some lab tests would not be difficult.

I tried to press Annie on vaccination, but she was careful not to come out as 100% against it. She does advise patients on homeopathic alternatives for travel, but generally leaves it to them to have the jabs if they want, and “sort it out when they get back”, ie a homeopathic `detox’. She is clearly convinced that vaccines can be harmful, but won’t deny that they have some benefits.

I asked about clinical evidence several times, and got the standard mantra of lack of funds. I was however recommended to look up George Vithoulkas, a well-known Greek homeopath, who has apparently published a great deal of research. In reality Vithoulkas has only 26 citations on PubMed, and not one of them is a clinical trial. Most are case reports or commentaries. This is not research.

I asked Annie what she thought of the non-individualised homeopathic remedies sold by for example Neal’s Yard Remedies. She was scathing about these, explaining that originally Rosie Daniels, the homeopath who set this up, had planned to have a homeopath on site at each store selling them, but this had not happened. This is interesting as her colleague Joanna runs a multi-level marketing business selling Neal’s Yard homeopathic products (thanks to @UKhomeopathyreg for spotting this).

Well I haven’t set out here everything I learned, and frankly I’m getting tired. It was a revealing insight into how these people think, or rather don’t think. I found they are all very nice people, welcoming and friendly, but they are just amusing the patients until nature takes its course. It certainly kept me entertained for a couple of hours.


6 Responses

  1. Interestingly whilst the Salisbury college is accredited by the SoH etc its course doesn’t meet the National Occupational Standards for Homeopathy. see https://ukhomeopathyregulation.blogspot.co.uk/2018/05/national-occupational-standards-for.html for what these are. And compliance with these standards is a mandatory contractual obligation on SoH members.Why the SoH gives awards to a training provider that doesn’t meet agreed standards is puzzling.

    It’s not really a surprise that homeopaths don’t understand the limits of their competence. Nor that their “training” encourages them to act outside of it. But the complacency in the face of the PSA action, media coverage, etc over CEASE therapy is illustrative. Of what, not quite sure, but nothing good.

    • While they didn’t mention NOS on the day, their prospectus says:

      ” We reference our programme to two main external homeopathic standards, the Core Criteria and the National Occupational Standards.”

  2. Reference? They certainly don’t meet them. http://www.hcpf.org.uk/qavs Only 5 “colleges” do but it’s only lip service.

  3. That’s awesome work there. I don’t think I’d have been able to do this and hold my tongue.

  4. Les, you are a star putting yourself through this. It would bring me out in hives.

  5. It looks like the College has now closed. If you search for it on Google the info panel on the right indicates that it’s permanent. The College’s own site says it’s not accepting applicants, though there’s still plenty of info also there about courses and fees, so it’s a bit confused.

    The Society of Homeopaths no longer includes the course on its list of accredited courses. Joanna Shipley’s website doesn’t really mention homeopathy (other than her blog) and she’s now moved on to coaching and spirituality.

    Hopefully the College’s closure is permanent, and not just related to Covid.


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