I don’t know why I became so interested in failure.
Maybe because my husband is a corporate coach and facilitator and ‘failure’ is a buzzword in the industry. Perhaps in our numerous conversations about the intersections of practicing homeopathy and his experience with leading teams… – there are overlaps, it’s true!- I started thinking about failure in homeopathy.
Maybe it’s because as a homeopath who still considers herself traversing the on-ramp of career and practice- I’ve been at it for six years – I feel very acquainted with failure within my practice.
Is this something we homeopaths are allowed to admit?
I have some excellent cases, to be sure. Those ones that make your jaw drop and ignite your fire for homeopathy all over again.
And I have solid progressive cases that are improving and doing well with good management.
But let’s be honest- I have a fair share of cases that do not.
I have a bundle of cases that shift and make mild improvements, but real healing never seems to take place. These are cases where the response is vague and so I look for a better remedy and my heart sinks a bit with each shift in remedy but ultimately, the client leaves because… who has the time to stick around for five or six months waiting for a change? And bless those that do, but many do not, and I cannot fault them for it.
Then there are the cases that never return. Is this a failure of mine? I don’t know…but there’s a loss of learning because I don’t get to see the results of my work.
I had come to believe that this is the reality of homeopathic practice. You know- you win some, you lose some, you help some. There’s a pathway of complacency you can choose here, if you want. You may figure- well, some cases are hard. Or, some people just won’t come back, or a number of other excuses and reasons for the mediocre helping and loss. The result is that you can focus on the ones that do well, that clearly improved, and let the others go where they may.
Juxtapose all of this next to the conferences and seminars with master clinicians who show multiple case examples with brilliant outcomes. How do we bridge that gap? Between our current practice statistics- winning, losing, helping- to where we would like to be?
One approach is to ask questions such as-
How can I be more successful?
What are best practices?
What did someone else do for [insert clinical diagnosis here] that worked?
How I can emulate [insert name of favorite master teacher here]?
Will learning [insert new system here] make prescribing easier?
To be sure, these are all valuable questions that will likely yield information that could be put to use with some success.
I would like to suggest a different line of questioning, however.
What factors contributed to a patient/case not improving?
When working on a case, which aspects do I struggle with the most?
Comparing a case that was very successful with clear improvement if not cure, with one that had little to mediocre improvement with no progression: what were the differences? Case details aside, how did I approach and work each case and what may be factors that contributed to the success of one and failure of another?
In looking at a group of ‘failed’ cases- are there recurring points of struggle or failure- such as grasping the totality, dealing with obstacles to cure, a lack of materia medica knowledge, case management, etc… ?
Do you see the difference in these lines of questioning?
Questions that ask- how can I be more successful often direct our gaze outward, to what *other* people are doing that is garnering *them* success.
It’s a useful approach, and one that will serve, to be sure. And it’s natural- to look to others who are doing what we want to do, and then figuring out how they got there and using that as a model. Many a successful person has stated that seeing someone else do something inspired them.
At some point, however, our eyes have to shift away from what others are doing and begin to focus on what *we* are doing… or not doing.
Questions that review our own work and ask what went well or faltered are homeopathic to our own process, growth, and needs.
How often do we walk back to the point of failure and pick it up in our hands, and turn it around.
How often do we analyze and consider the point of failure?
was it a remedy choice? or maybe:
differentiating between remedies
was it in the case taking
understanding what needed to be cured
managing the aggravation
understanding the response
deciding the second prescription
when you have a successful response to a remedy, what you see is the improvement. Most likely some combination of factors conspired for that success:
your understanding of the case
your method of evaluating- be it repertorizing, periodic table, plant system, kingdoms, sensation, etc.
your choice of remedy
your choice of potency and dosing
It’s why beginners and home prescribers can achieve results- homeopathic principles are fairly forgiving.
Principles can be relied upon: like cures like, minimum dose, and individuality. You don’t need to bulls-eye all three to see some action. A well chosen polycrest in a 30c potency for an acute ailment or a recurring chronic one will most likely provide some kind of positive result. It may not last long, it won’t cure it forever, but a good percentage of the time, it will ‘work.’
At a very basic level, getting results with homeopathy is a combination of factors- totality, remedy, potency, dose- all in the ballpark. You can keep on that way for sometime, without looking much deeper, if you like. Most of the results will be helpful or palliative, not a true cure, and as C.M. Boger said-
“… comparatively few men are privileged to see the powerful reactions which belong to homoeopathic experience…”
In our allopathic society, palliation is the norm. As homeopaths, we can easily be lulled by improvement over cure.
Jeremy Sherr has said that it is easy to get a 60% success rate, maybe a bit higher. Most homeopaths can achieve that fairly easily. But to push up to 80, 90% and higher is a lot of work, and you improve incrementally, just one step at a time, one case at a time. (Whole Health Now has a collection of freecasts where you can find interviews with Jeremy.)
That ‘work’ I have come to realize, is part looking at the success of others and their methods, but *more so* tuning into ourselves and our own work.
As Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina:
“All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”
Our failures are unique- and in that uniqueness, we can fine tune our skills as practitioners and improve ourselves and our results for our patients- the remedies that last longer, the potencies that give healing aggravations rather than protracted ones, healing the totality, not just the scattered symptoms.
I think that improvement comes from examining what isn’t working, what failed, and applying what you learned. It’s like a test- you isolate that one thing and then you can evaluate the results. It’s hard to evaluate success. But just like you’ll find the same remedy in opposing modalities- Rhus to is known for better motion, but you’ll also find it in worse continued motion- your success is in failing. And failing is an ingredient in success.
We have no greater example of this than Hahnemann himself, and Chronic Disease.
Chronic Disease was a masterpiece child of failure- Hahnemann’s own. We all know the story- his patients were improving and symptoms were disappearing…only to return again. It was success and failure rolled up together, and rather than throwing up his hands and saying, ‘ah well..it’s better than allopathy’ he spent sixteen years developing his theory of chronic disease and miasms.
These ideas- about failure and success, about looking at my own cases and looking for specific cues to indicate where I need to study and grow to improve- are the focus of my podcast- 1M: A Homeopath’s Podcast- for 2017. Since January, I have devoted each mostly episode to diving deeply into this idea.
I am not original in my thinking. One of Kent’s Aphorisms from Lesser Writings states:
“When you make failures you may be sure that they are within yourself. If you think failure is in homeopathy, you will begin your corrections on the wrong side of the ledger.”
I invite you to join me in applying our homeopathic study to ourselves- to discovering our own unique needs and points of growth as individual practitioners, and learning- at the potency needed- to fill that susceptibility. Our patients deserve no less, and our entire profession and homeopathy’s standing in the world will be elevated for it.
About the author:
Kelly Callahan CCH practices homeopathy in Camden, Maine, and teaches at the Baylight Center for Homeopathy in Portland, Maine. In January 2016, Kelly launched 1M: A Homeopath’s Podcast, available monthly through iTunes, and online at http://1mpodcast.libsyn.com/podcast. Each month features interviews, archival readings, and materia medica around a single theme. When not practicing, teaching, or recording, Kelly lives and learns with her husband, two children, dog, new kitten and cat in Appleton, Maine.