Why Interpret Symptoms

Interepreting Chronic Illness - Why Interpret Symptoms

Symptom Interpretation Advantages

The pressure to provide a quick fix comes from so many directions: friends, family members, the workplace, insurers, and the patients themselves. Who among practitioners has not at some time capitulated, offering treatment prematurely, realizing only after the case has developed itself more fully in his mind, that the original plan of action was off base? Clearly, rushing to judge the meaning of symptoms is a bad idea, and specific reasons exist as to why a conscientious search for meaning is worth the trouble. The sections below explain why.

Deepening Understanding and Strengthening the Bond with the Patient

Suppose for a moment that I am presented a magic wand with which to cure every patient above whose head it is waved. Unless the wand grants me valid insights into the illness I want to cure I will immediately hand it back. In order to heal I must first understand. Only by virtue of understanding can I hope to heal. Curiosity, keenness of observation, and acuity of  assessment offer multiple results in the clinical setting. Not the least of these is that the clinician/client relationship at times sparkles with insight, possibility, joy and hope.

Promoting the Possibility of a Talking-Based or Behavioral-Based Cure

Whether or not one is a psychotherapist, there can be times when discussing an analysis of the case with the patient will, in and of itself, be curative. In my own practice, because I generally administer a remedy in my office immediately after deciding a case, such an opportunity seldom presents itself. But instances have occurred—for example, when the patient prefers to give himself the remedy at home—in which a pattern of long-standing symptoms somehow resolves itself before the patient takes the remedy. Such improvement can be lasting, requiring recourse neither to a remedy nor to any other kind of intervention.

Case analysis may also prompt the therapist to use a strategem based on non-insight, a behavioral prescription requiring the patient to deliberately exaggerate the positive pole of the remedy state’s radical disjunct. As an example, prior to entering a Sepia state, a woman who is a candidate for this remedy is normally hopeful. Traumatized by resentment and disappointment, the woman is subsequently ensnared in Sepia. She now comes to experience hope as toxic, as a result of which her energy undergoes profound stagnation.

If sincerely carried out, the act of noticing and consciously negating each and every hopeful thought to cross her mind may suffice to release the woman from Sepia’s mind/body bind. Paradoxical, “prescribe-the-symptom” recommendations of this sort have been pioneered by logotherapists of the Viktor Frankl school who routinely apply counterintuitive (but homeopathically analogous) stratagems in order to liberate their patients from self-imposed and self-reinforcing binds.

We might now look at how the work of the constitutional homeopath and the clinical therapist intersect. Both professionals are likely to view identification of a debilitating paradox that is central to a client’s life and history as a core objective. A difference in methodology, however, between homeopaths and therapists becomes apparent: While homeopaths survey and investigate the full range of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms, therapists—despite ample possession of the interpretive knack—may limit their attention to a client’s cognition, behavior, and affect.

Another dfference: Although a therapist investigates the background history in which her patient’s complaint or disorder is rooted, the therapist may feel compelled to view, for example, anxiety or depression as separable from its context. For this reason, she may provoke a defensive reaction in her client. For the homeopath, however, it is immaterial whether an environmental circumstance promotes a particular remedy state or whether the same circumstance merely reflects the remedy state. The homeopath is also not constrained from accepting as legitimate any explanation a patient offers as responsible for initiating the disorder.

One of the purposes of this book is to provide therapists and caregivers an opportunity to extend the scope of their attention to, and understanding of, somatic symptoms. As will be repeatedly demonstrated, physical symptoms are a language aching to be decoded. Whenever somatic decoding takes place, the benefit to clinician and patient alike is self-evident.

Case in Point: The Curse of the Bambino

Rather than supplying a case file, the following example of cure by means of prescribing the symptom is taken from a public event. It concerns the chronic illness of a renowned Boston baseball franchise stricken with a debilitating condition known as “The Curse of the Bambino.” The Boston Red Sox could not win a World Series after basically giving away to the New York Yankees, for a piddling amount of cash, Babe Ruth, who, as it turned out, would become widely recognized as the greatest player in the history of baseball. In 2004, with the Red Sox team’s miraculous, come-from-behind win in a playoff against the Yankees, and their subsequent rout of the National League’s St. Louis Cardinals, the infamous curse was finally, after 86 years, put to rest. What had effected the cure?

The power of the curse was not mystical. Rather, it represented an entrenched fear and its related behavioral rigidity. States of “stuckness” just like this are routinely identified by classical homeopaths as “underlying illness states.” The fear underlying The Curse of the Bambino” was that team management might some day again commit an error as egregious as giving away Babe Ruth, the great Bambino. The rigidity was associated with the fear of making any baseball trades that were even remotely suggestive of this possibility. When installed as a core front-office belief, the fear delimited managerial flexibility, thereby placing the team at a disadvantage with respect to trading players with other teams.

There is in baseball a shibboleth that the value of even a handful of good players cannot equate that of a single great player. The reason for this is that truly great players are irreplaceable, while many even very good players can be readily exchanged for others of equal value. Avoidance of any such trade would be fully in keeping with the fear and rigidity associated with the Curse of the Bambino. In accordance with the homeopathic Law of Similars, however, the way out of an ideé fixe demands grappling with the original error (but only in a micro-dosage form). Yes, facing down the demon is better than doing nothing.

The Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra had been anointed the greatest Red Sox player since Ted Williams by no less a luminary than Ted Williams himself. Yet, in 2004, General Manager Theo Epstein was inspired to trade the irreplaceable Garciaparra for three talented but lesser lights. The day on which the trade was announced talk-show radio hosts went berserk. The trade was denounced in the newspapers as another Babe Ruth giveaway.

One can say, of course, that the team’s chemistry improved because of the three new players, each of whom went on to play significant roles in the team’s 2004 triumph. I would argue, however, that it was Epstein’s fear-dispelling moxie that cured the curse and restored the franchise to health.