Recently I had time to sit down with Dr. Rebecca Principe and discuss the way she practices Classical Homeopathy to create profound changes for her patients. Here is what she had to say.
Sarah: When did you decide to become a homeopath?
Rebecca: Homeopathy is something that was important to me before I ever considered being a doctor. I came across homeopathy through the NCNM student clinics when I was in my 20’s. I’d had two pretty powerful and helpful experiences with homeopathy. The first time I thought, Oh my god, did that just work? I really had no idea what homeopathy was back then, but having experienced such a clear shift allowed me to enter naturopathic school already on board and excited.
Sarah: Can you be more specific about what you experienced and how that lead you into naturopathic medical school?
Rebecca: I had gone out of the country and picked up some sort of bug or parasite. I tried some antibiotics. I tried some other things the docs gave me. Nothing really worked. There were actually numerous ailments I had during that trip to central America and Mexico where the conventional medicine didn’t work and the natural medicine did. So that was what initiated my pull toward natural medicine. One of those instances was coming back with this big GI infection. I treated myself with herbs and really extreme diet. When I came off of that–with no guidance—I had this huge sugar craving rebound. I was obsessed with sugar. I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was binge eating. I couldn’t really go out and function very well throughout the day without eating huge amounts of cookies. It was a short-term eating disorder.
I went to the student clinic and they gave me a homeopathic. Later that night I went to a friend’s house and I noticed he was eating a cookie. And while I was aware of it, I didn’t feel that same intense, distracting craving toward it. Something had shifted. I thought that can’t be it, that’s too good to be true. I didn’t dare say it out loud. But the next day things had shifted. It wasn’t as though it made it go away, but it was this huge leg up.
The other time was when I was having panic attacks. I took a different remedy then, one that, once again, an NCNM student gave me. And again it just took the edge off. Homeopathy is like that. Sometimes it can be really profound. But usually it doesn’t make everything go away. You’re still dealing with stuff, but suddenly you’re one level up. Everything is a little easier.
So I went into NCNM already excited about homeopathy. A lot of students at NCNM need to be sold on homeopathy as they go through school, because it doesn’t make any “sense”. It’s one of our least logical, most energetic modalities in the naturopathic program. We don’t have a lot of clinical training with homeopathy. So a lot of people don’t see it work. And it’s hard. It takes a lot of time. It takes getting good at it. So most docs just never end up practicing it in a classical sense.
I have other NDs refer to me just for homeopathy. And I’m comfortable just doing homeopathy at times. I really love it. But it takes a lot of time, and I definitely work outside of the clinic in ways that I can’t get paid for. I do it because I don’t know what else I would do. There are issues I can help with homeopathy that I feel like none of the other tools I have would touch. If I didn’t have homeopathy, I would feel like I need to practice acupuncture. Homeopathy is my deep constitutional medicine. So sometimes I just say gosh, what do these other NDs do—especially for mental/emotional, constitutional stuff? You can use anxiolytic herbs. You can try to balance the neurotransmitters–stuff like that. But homeopathy just gets at it at a different level. You can treat “untreatable” things with it.
Sarah: Give me an example of a patient you treated with homeopathy.
Rebecca: I treated a patient last year who came to me with life-long depression. With homeopathy it’s not like there’s a remedy just for depression. We need to look at what depression is like for you and how does it feel for you? What makes it better? What makes it worse? And what are the thinking errors that go along with that depression? This patient just felt really withdrawn and like she couldn’t connect, as if people didn’t see her for who she really was–and if they did maybe they wouldn’t like her. But on the surface she didn’t reveal that at all.
That’s something you always look for in homeopathy—the discord between what someone is coming in for and what they present with. Symptoms that are discordant. I gave her a single dose of Thuja. She came back the next time and this whole life-long pattern had shifted. She said Oh, yeah, actually I don’t feel withdrawn at all. I feel connected to people. It’s always interesting when people come back that way because it’s like their new normal. People don’t often come in saying, Oh my god, you wouldn’t believe what’s happening. Because now it’s their new normal. And they’re like, Yeah, actually, now that’s not such a big thing. Now I’ve got these new things.
That’s why, when I give a remedy, I always explain to the patient how important it is to come back in for the follow-up, even if they think nothing happened and I’m useless. Because often it’s when I start asking questions that people realize, Oh yeah, that’s gone too! And for this person, all this upper respiratory stuff had gone away also. And food cravings had changed. So those are common things to look for–how the general stuff shifts. That’s always a good sign.
When you’re picking a remedy, you’re trying to confirm it with smaller characteristics and symptoms like that. Do you run hot or cold? What are your cravings? Do you have constipation or diarrhea? They’re not always there. But if you get a couple of those constitutional confirmations then you know you’re on the right track. A lot of it is about how you interact with the world and where the misperceptions or errors in thinking are that cause the dysfunction in how you operate with the world. I’m worthless or I’m forsaken or people are attacking me. Those are really basic thought patterns that sometimes inform how people interact with the world. Those are the things we’re looking for.
Sarah: Can you explain the mechanism of homeopathy?
Rebecca: Homeopathy is the practice of using very dilute amounts of substances found in nature to create a healing response according to the philosophy of “like cures like”. So, basically, we take these substances that–in crude amounts–would cause the symptoms that the person is having. We dilute them down to the point where the dose is immaterial. There’s no detectable amount of it left. And this diluted substance actually helps the person to move beyond those symptoms that the crude dose would cause. We really try to match it up very specifically with the person’s symptom picture.
You can go into homeopathy thinking, Oh, this is a good remedy for left sided headache. And people practice that way all the time. And sometimes it works. But with constitutional or classical homeopathy it’s really about taking the whole picture and figuring out what needs to be healed in that picture and what else in the individual fits into that pattern–and then matching a remedy with that. It gets detailed and intricate.
As I said, these remedies are diluted so extensively that there isn’t anything detectable there anymore. So it’s debatable what is happening. Some people think it’s an energetic imprint in the water. Maybe the water molecules have changed. Some people now are talking about it being like nanotechnology. Maybe there’s something happening down at that small level. So it’s a cross between herbal medicine and energy work. A lot of people would say Oh, there’s no science to back it up. But when you dig through the research there have actually been a good amount of experiments done with homeopathy, especially over in Europe where it was developed. You can find a good amount of science behind it. A lot of provings. Provings are how they used to find out what remedies did what. Which meant giving a bunch of people specific remedies and then recording which symptoms were common. And that’s how they actually found out what did what with homeopathy.
Sarah: Can you say more about getting the “whole picture” with patients? You have to get very detailed information, right?
Rebecca: Yes, so the person comes in and you get their story of what they want fixed. And sometimes what needs to be fixed isn’t necessarily what they talk about. But they come in with a problem. It’s really a much more passive interview, because it’s just about letting the conversation go where it wants to go and then probing deeper. So someone presents with their digestive disorder–and it’s all the usual descriptions but then also what was going on in your life when that started? And have you experienced things like this before? I check into all the circumstances around it. What makes this better or worse? What other things in your body started around the same time? I’m trying to find threads throughout the case that align. So someone has terrible cramping in their abdomen. Okay well then what about other cramping? I look for other places where there’s spasming or cramping in their life. Whether that’s physical or mental/emotional. I’m looking for qualities that are similar. If someone feels better after a discharge, that can be nasal discharge, diarrhea, or words bursting out of them. I’m looking for things that are on the emotional, physical, and even spiritual planes that have similar qualities.
But I did some advanced training with the New England School of Homeopathy and I learned that you actually don’t always take the whole picture into account. That’s where a lot of classical homeopaths are going wrong. People comes into this world needing a certain remedy. There are some remedies you’re more likely to start off needing. One of my mentors says there are seven or eight remedies that 80% of kids need–depending on family history, traumas, genetics. Then life happens to you. The world pushes on you. And then maybe there’s another layer formed. There’s another remedy you need later. But you can still see the original remedy underneath.
The remedy I likely needed when I was born was phosphorus. That was actually the first remedy someone gave me at NCNM that helped. And I probably will need phosphorus at other times in my life. But there have been times when I’ve taken phosphorus and it didn’t help–because I needed another remedy. I had gone into this other state. You could still see the phosphorus underneath. Phosphorus is very quick and energetic and bubbly and talkative and is very emotional and sensitive. You could see that under the other layer that I needed, but if you don’t know that, if you just take everything into account, then you’re going to get confused. So it’s about asking what needs to be fixed? You see what needs to be fixed and what the cycle is within that dysfunction and then you say, Okay what else fits with the dysfunctional cycle that this person is in? It’s not going to be everything about them. So that can be tricky because you’re asking When did this layer come on? You don’t want to take into account everything before that. So that takes some intuition.
Sarah: So when you’re working with different layers, are you thinking about different potencies?
Rebecca: Potency is probably the most controversial aspect of homeopathy. My homeopathy teacher said this is the thing that you need to worry about the least. People get all caught up on the potencies. But everyone has different philosophies. Every homeopath has a different way to do it. I try not to get too caught up in that, but of course I’ve come up with a way I generally operate. I just know it’s not the only way.
Sarah: Talk about the kinds of conditions you treat with homeopathy.
Rebecca: I can really treat anything with homeopathy. Often I give homeopathics if someone comes in with something acute, like bronchitis or a urinary tract infection. Depending on the severity, I’ll also do naturopathic medicine with it. If a pharmaceutical may be indicated, I often give the prescription but say just hold onto this incase you need it, so I can buy some time for the naturopathic treatment to work. I really like to use homeopathy where I can because it’s very inexpensive and deep acting, and doesn’t conflict with anything else you would do.
What I’m mostly using homeopathy for right now are either chronic conditions that people haven’t seen much movement on with naturopathic medicine–with all the other tools that we have–or mental/emotional stuff. I treat a lot of sleep issues, digestive disorders, respiratory infections, female hormone issues. I also do a lot of mental health compared to many other NDs. I have a psychology background. And homeopathy can be used in that way. It can be used when someone is already on a pharmaceutical drug. Or sometimes patients are able to avoid going on pharmaceuticals because of homeopathy. Psych meds can be pretty ugly. Lots of side effects compared with the efficacy. We’re talking mostly about anxiety and mood disorders, although sometimes I do see people with more severe mental illness. If someone is really anxious and wants to start an anti-anxiety drug, often we’re able to treat them homeopathically, and that anxiety is taken down to the point where they no longer feel like they need that drug. They’re still going to have to do their own work and use their coping skills and work on diet and sleep–everything that helps to make a happy, healthy mental state. But I’ve been able to reduce people’s anxiety enough that they’re not feeling that desperation that goes along with the decision to start a pharmaceutical.
But a person doesn’t need to have a psychiatric diagnosis or condition to benefit from homeopathy. I treat a lot of nebulous issues related to transitions, relationships, habits and personality traits. People that feel like they have a lot of conflict or discord in their lives, or can’t get motivated–things that are just normal life stuff. I’ve got a patient right now who just feels really stuck and I’m helping her gain some confidence.
I also treat a lot of grief. That’s something that homeopathy’s really good for. Grieving is normal. But when someone is stuck in grief, homeopathy can be really helpful. There are a few really good grief remedies that can help when someone’s not able to move on.
Sarah: Say more about grief remedies.
Rebecca: Ignatia is one of the biggest. It’s not always the one people need. And people can need it for other reasons besides grieving but it’s one of the biggest grief remedies. It often involves someone who’s grieving but they’re almost hysterical with it at times. It’s not for the quiet grieving. That’s more like Nat Mur. Ignatia has irritability and anger within the grief, a feeling of not being able to swallow. Usually there’s also a nervous system component–twitching or spasming. The grief of a Nat Mur patient is more of a silent grief. And sometimes the person actually needs the remedy that they needed before the grief.
Sarah: Can you speak more on the nature of Classical Homeopathy specifically?
Rebecca: Classical Homeopathy is a puzzle and that’s why I love it. There’s such an amazing feeling when you’re figuring it out. It’s all about people, which connects to my psychology background. There’s a lot of analyzing while you’re sitting there with your books and your computer program, cross-referencing things and honing in on what the case is really about.
But it’s also very intuitive for me. I’ll be working on a case that I’m unsure about, and I’ll decide to put it aside and move on with my day. I’ll get in the shower, for example, and suddenly I’ll get some great insight into the case – an underlying pattern, something I overlooked, or maybe even the remedy itself. It’s a puzzle. That’s why I enjoy it, aside from its effectiveness. When people come in and say I’m here just for homeopathy. I think, Oh that’s great! I get to take off my doctor cap. I will put it back on if someone says they have chest pain. If we’re just doing homeopathy I can sit back and say Oh, that’s interesting. What does that feel like? But also I am a doctor so I have to make sure there’s nothing I need to attend to on the medical level and then it’s Okay, back to homeopathy. I sometimes think I about what it would have been like to just be a lay homeopath instead of going to medical school. That would have been easy. And much cheaper. But in the end, I love being a doctor and it’s great to have a lot of tools in my tool bag. As a naturopathic primary care physician here in Oregon, I really get the best of all worlds. Homeopathy is just the part of my job where I hear the most interesting and weirdest stuff.
There are things called SRPs–strange, rare, and peculiar symptoms. And that’s something I’m always looking for, the things that are discordant and stand out in the case. I’m looking for the things that are different from the norm but also different from the rest of the case. If they say Oh I’m super calm, but I just get enraged in this one situation, I’m asking what is that about? In homeopathy you’re always scanning for the symptoms or statements that stand out. So the weirder the better. Nothing is too weird in homeopathy. And people often like homeopathic intakes because they get to talk about themselves in a different way. That’s the case in naturopathic visits in general. People get to tell their stories. But in homeopathy it’s even more so, because we give a lot of time for it. We ask a lot of questions.
Sarah: I think it’s important to add that, as a homeopath, you listen to people very deeply and you really see them. And that is so therapeutic. Before you even give the remedy the patient has had this very therapeutic experience of being listened to and being deeply seen.
Rebecca: Yes, and seen in a non judgemental way, because it’s all the same with homeopathy. Nothing’s bad. It’s all just figuring out where it fits in.
Sarah: Right, because it’s all about the energetic qualities in nature that are being mirrored in the body.
Rebecca: Right, and it has helped me in terms of how I look at people too. I’ve always been very empathic and understanding and able to talk with all different types of people. But now things that would have been seen as dysfunction, I see in terms of certain remedies. And even with kids. For instance, a Calc Carb kid likes order. They like to be prepared. They’re not wanting to be thrown into something. They need time to transition into things. They’re just a little slower. Say they happen to have parents who are both Sulphur or Phosphorus types. These are remedies that can be quicker or more all over the place. They often don’t need transition time in the way Calc Carb does. I can help those parents to understand what their child is like by understanding those remedies. Because you can’t really force a child like that into that other way of being. So if I can help parents to understand that, they’re going to have a much easier time dealing with the him or her, and setting up realistic expectations. Because that kid’s not going to move very quickly.
Sarah: And that’s how that remedy exists in nature.
Rebecca: Yes, it’s a rock. It’s chalk. It’s very stable. So homeopathy helps me to understand people more, even my partner and other people I interact with in my life. I realize Oh that person is that sort of person. There are, of course, other ways that people do this – try to make sense of behavior. People use astrology, ethnicity, hometown. Oh, she’s Italian. She’s from the south. She’s a scorpio. It’s just another system for understanding people. And I’ve always liked systems for understanding people.
Sarah: What do you do for fun?
Rebecca: When I’m not doing all of this, I live out in the country with my partner and our dogs. So I spend a lot of time outside. I do a lot of hiking and rock climbing, and I do a lot of movement practices like dance and yoga. I have a lot of interests and do a little bit of everything, really. I’m learning the mandolin right now. It’s not as easy for me to travel the world as it used to be, so now I do a lot of little camping trips, weekends away, and see what I can of the world in that way. I also spend a decent amount of time working to further the profession. I’m on the board of the Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OANP) as treasurer, and I’m also on the legislative committee. So I’m always trying to help the world along from that angle. When I was young I thought I was going to be a lawyer. At one point in my naturopathic education I questioned if medicine was a career that would utilize all my skills and passions. So working with the OANP is perfect for me; I’m able to put my organizational & leadership traits to good use. It’s a nice balance.