Which Witch-Doctors?

in consultation

a second opinion…

The Modern Witch Doctors

At least one thing you can be sure of – this won’t be a rant against homoeopathy – at least not against homoeopathy as taught by Hahnemann and Boenninghausen. But it takes me a while to get to the point. Caution: patience required.

Witch doctors are for the most part defined as those who profess to have supernatural powers, mutter magic spells, have lengthy and effective conversations with the devil and his minions where they always win, work with potions and portents and basically own all that is not in the here and now. Sort of.

Let’s look at the nature of this kind of treatment:

  1. The witch doctor has religious status – to disagree or turn down his ministrations is tantamount to blasphemy.
  1. The patient is seen as someone who cannot understand the witch doctor’s reasons for “prescribing” the potions/spells/etc. as he is not sufficiently spiritually endowed with special powers.
  1. “Patients” usually see themselves as “lesser mortals” than the witch doctor – or even simply at the witch doctor’s mercy.
  1. Where witch doctors are to be found, they are not usually great sharers of information with the communities they minister to – information is power after all. This is accepted by their “patients” (see point 3).
  1. FEAR is a very important component of the treatment and of the way the community relates to the witch doctor. It is made clear that if the community members do not do what the witch doctor recommends, dreadful evil will befall them.
  1. Witch doctors are the only ones who can read the portents, signs, entrails etc. and interpret them to the ignorant mob.
  1. If a witch doctor from a different village shows up and offers a different interpretation of said portents – there’s either a battle or he’ll find himself unceremoniously kicked out of town. Needless to say the community cannot say which witch is “right”, as these secrets are not revealed to the ordinary mortal.
  1. The witch doctor will cite an unseen deity of some sort to back up his powerful position, spells, forecasts and prescriptions. There is no way the community can ascertain whether such a divinity exists, but anything bad that happens will be interpreted as the result of not following the witch doctor’s obviously celestially inspired recommendations.

Is any of this sounding familiar to anyone? This rant was provoked by seeing horrendous talkbacks attacking homoeopathy, by the maniacal loathing expressed against so-called “anti-vaxxers”, and similar. (Do they call the lemmings who refuse to jump over the cliff “defilers of the lemming tradition”, I wonder? Pity the “pro-life” label is taken…). It was also prompted by a visit to an elderly acquaintance, who is succumbing to that poisonous mix of ill-health and over-medication. He has been taking a medicine to improve his memory. So now he remembers that he doesn’t remember who anyone is…and is suffering from all the side effects to make sure he won’t remember anything else…

So let’s put modern medicine to the “witch doctor test”:

  1. Conventional medical doctors have taken on an aura that borders on (or has totally crossed into) the religious. This is perhaps understandable where doctors are practicing emergency medicine, and often literally bringing people back to life. In treatment of chronic disease?  Infinitely less so.
  1. Explaining anything to the patient is done cautiously and simplistically, if at all. The patient is not expected to understand, as he is seen as not sufficiently medically educated for any kind of in-depth explanation. Given the level and virulence of some of the above-mentioned talkbacks – perhaps this is true? Please say it isn’t. (More ominously, the drug companies and sponsors may, perhaps, want the patient to remain ignorant. But other people rant on that particular subject so much better than I do, so I will leave it to them…)
  1. Many people also see themselves as “less” able to understand, and therefore not entitled to ask questions when dealing with the medical establishment,. Such patients won’t even ask their doctors simple questions like “why should I carry on taking this medicine against forgetfulness when I had to write this question down in order to remember to ask you? And who are you anyway?”
  1. Sources of information are often kept from the inquiring patient. This can be deliberate, as in a recent advisory to pediatricians not to offer the cautious parents of their little patients any written material or links giving more information on vaccination. Or the information is presented using joined-up wall-to-wall jargon, making it inaccessible to the unenlightened (see point 6).
  1. FEAR: and this is the big one. If you don’t do this unexplained thing that I tell you to do, horrible things will happen to you and your family and you will die / cause someone else to die / etc. If you don’t vaccinate – your vaccinated neighbor will be at risk (head-scratch in perplexity here, I thought the vaccines prevent infection…), the school won’t teach your kids, the doctor won’t treat your kid for his broken arm, and you will be ostracized by society.
  1. When was the last time you read a medical study from cover to cover? I realize some of my readers will say “last night before going to bed” – but they are probably the ones with medical or scientific training and a particularly masochistic bed-time routine. How many of us know the questions to ask in order to ascertain whether a study is reliable or not – beyond the obvious question of who’s funding it? So many studies are ambiguous, the data inaccurate, the interpretations fallacious. So the sources of information are problematic – not least because they are not easily accessible and usually difficult for the individual of average intelligence to process.

    When was the last time you received full explanations of all the possible implications in a blood test, an x-ray, a CAT-scan, an MRI…? The portents can only be read by doctors – and oddly enough, they do occasionally disagree with each other. And do the words “false negative” and “false positive” sound familiar?

  1. Who exactly is the deity in modern medicine? What is the unknown divine source of information? Here is the odd part – theoretically, the deity is given as “Science”. The patient cannot understand, as he is not sufficiently “scientific”. “Anti-vaxxers” are labeled “unscientific”, “wicked” (not in a nice way..), “demonic” and more – the language moving more into the domain of religion or superstition and losing any pseudo-scientific resonance as the discussion escalates. So many sins have been committed under the banner of “scientifically proven”, from eugenics to the current US carbohydrate-laden food guidelines which have produced an obesity epidemic unparalleled in history, where malnutrition masquerades as plenty.

So here I will finally get to the point. Which, you may be surprised to read, is not to “diss” the conventional medical system.  At least, not this time. Let’s put homoeopathy through the “witch doctor test”, or at least homoeopathy when practiced correctly:

  1. What we do as homoeopaths sometimes seems magical in its effects – but it is not magic. The professional homoeopath does not (or should not) promote a “religious” aura to the practice of what is essentially a one-principle therapy – “The Law of Similars”.
  1. We can explain the treatment to the patient. The patient often doesn’t want explanations, only solutions – but explanations of the method itself are usually not actively withheld. Extensive explanation shouldn’t be necessary if the patient trusts our ability to work with the method, but that does not mean questions are outlawed or automatically treated with disdain.  At least I hope that’s the case.
  1. I don’t get the impression as a rule that patients see themselves as lesser mortals in the context of homoeopathic treatment – just as people who have not studied homoeopathy.  As a practitioner, I have yet to meet with patients who feel as if they have no right to ask questions.
  1. In our internet-crazy world, where so much inaccurate information has never been so available to so many, some homoeopaths withhold names of remedies prescribed in order to prevent patients from jumping to conclusions regarding the prescribing through inaccurate research, but in general all information – even accurate information – is offered, out there and available.
  1. the Fear element? Nah… I don’t think so…I’ve tried but I don’t think anyone is scared of me…perhaps other homoeopaths have had more success with this…
  1. Anyone can read a proving. Most people (including sadly many homoeopaths) don’t want to. But the sources are accessible and not that difficult to understand.
  1. And the deity? Here’s the interesting part… the deity, if one can call it that, is actually… well… Science.  Homoeopathy is based on objective observation of what substances do to healthy people. Treatment is determined by objective highly individualized examination of the disease state in each patient, and on the repeated objective observation of the way in which sick people with disease symptoms can be cured by substances that can cause similar medicinal symptoms in the healthy. The fact that the therapy has to be highly individualized does not make it less objective.  It does, however, make it very difficult to test homoeopathy using double-blind studies, the gold standard – nay, apparently the only method of evaluating any form of treatment which is seen as truly scientific and accepted across the board.

Science rests on available, reliable sources of information, and data that can be checked, experiments that can be replicated.

Homoeopathy rests on available, reliable sources of information and data that can be checked, experiments that can be replicated. (deliberate repeat there, dear reader… just making my point…)

Without provings, without basing our work on provings… we ourselves cannot pass the “witch doctor test”…  And that, my friends, is the point.

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2 responses to “Which Witch-Doctors?

  1. BAHAHAHA I knew who you were talking about from the first point! While I do admire their skills in emergency medicine, especially the literal bringing people back to life, of course they can’t treat chronic disease! I saw a baby whose GP knew of nothing to treat her Molluscum infection and that’s not even really difficult!
    As for the “anti-vaxxer” label, I have even heard of conventional doctors who at least want to reduce the number of vaccinations or space them out.

    • Vera Resnick IHM DHom Med (Lic)

      Thanks for the comment – I wonder how many of the conventional doctors you mention dare to speak out these days. There are many doctors who are frustrated with the system, but they get bashed by their own, and bashed by the alternatives…

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