A homeopath is an alternative health care practitioner who treats patients on the basis of homeopathy, an approach to diagnosis and treatment developed in the late 18th century by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician. Homeopathy involves treating imbalances in the body which lead to health problems, with the use of preparations known as remedies. Levels of certification for homeopaths vary. In some nations, homeopathy is tightly regulated and people must attain a specific level of education and pass certification exams to practice as homeopaths, while in other regions, people may advertise themselves as homeopaths with minimal training and no professional certification.
The key to homeopathy is an individualized approach in which each patient is treated as an entirely new and separate person, recognizing that each person is different and that small variations can influence how a remedy will act on a patient. When a patient goes to a homeopath, the homeopath spends a great deal of time interviewing the patient to learn more about him or her and to establish a profile which will be used in treatment. After an interview, the homeopath will determine what course of action is needed. The patient may need a remedy, or another form of treatment which can be provided by the homeopath or another care provider.
Remedies rely on the principle that “like cures like.” According to Hahnemann, substances which would induce symptoms in healthy individuals can be used to treat those same symptoms in people who are sick. Homeopathic remedies are made from heavily diluted materials, and in fact only a few molecules of the original substance remain in the pills, powders, and liquids used by homeopaths to treat their patients. Because remedies are so diluted that they are not pharmacologically active, some critics of homeopathy argue that it is really based on the placebo effect.
Homeopaths rely on books known as repertories, in which the various remedies are listed, along with appropriate applications for each remedy. The homeopath may consult a repertory while the patient is in the office, or wait until the patient has left and discuss the patient's remedy at another visit, depending on personal preference and the patient's situation. A homeopath may also use herbal medicine, nutrition, and other tools to treat patients.
The homeopath views the body as a whole, rather than just looking at specific symptoms and treating those. This approach is common to many alternative medicine modalities. Alternative medical practice has achieved varying degrees of acceptance around the world. In some countries, it may be used as a primary method of treatment, while in other regions, it may be largely rejected. Other medical communities blend conventional and alternative medicine, integrating the positive features of both to provide medical treatment.