Janet Snowdon, RS Hom, is among the key figures responsible for the resurgence of homeopathy in England in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After studying with Dr. Thomas Maughan, she attended the College of Homeopathy in London and has been practicing homeopathy for over 30 years. She has studied and worked with many leading homeopaths, including George Vithoulkas, Jayesh Shah, and Rajan Sankaran, whose methods she has integrated into her practice in a unique way. She is renowned for her excellence both as a practitioner and a teacher, holding faculty roles in various homeopathy colleges and having taught seminars throughout Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
How did you first come to homeopathy?
Just over 40 years ago, my mother was dying from cancer and her treatment at the hands of the medical profession went rather wrong. At the same time, my middle daughter, who was a baby, was quite ill and medical treatment didn’t work for her either. Somebody came around and suggested homeopathy. It was too late to do anything for my mother, even if my father had allowed it (which he wouldn’t have), but my daughter got remarkably better. She was only a few months old. Within two weeks she was well and, as I held her, I remember saying, “This baby is getting better from the inside out.” At the time, I had no idea about Hering’s law of cure but I actually experienced it. It wasn’t until later, when I was studying homeopathy, that I realized I had experienced homeopathy in the same way that you experience it when you do a proving. It’s a sort of visceral experience. It’s holistic rather than just intellectual.
After that I started taking my children to a homeopath called Dr. Thomas Maughan, who was in his 70s at the time. He was born at the end of the Victorian era and he was very fierce – quite terrifying, in fact. I don’t suppose he actually disliked children but he thought children should be seen and not heard. It was not easy. He always gave me an appointment at about 6 o’clock in the evening, which is not good for small children. He was very difficult but he was brilliant. And eventually I decided to start studying with him.
What was it like for you, studying with Thomas Maughan?
He taught a class once a fortnight and I did that class for two years. He was a very inspiring man. That was his gift. He was very scary and he quite brutally annihilated anyone who made a silly remark. At the same time, he had the capacity to inspire – and that’s what he really did. He inspired us with homeopathy. And his inspiration carried on after he died.
It’s interesting that we all thought he was in his 80s but he was only in his 70s when he died. He created an air of mystique around him which was part of his power and we would never dare question it. Once somebody has created a mystique like that, there’s a sort of Chinese whispers that happens and then you believe everything everybody says!
After Maughan died, two of his pupils who had been with him a long time, Martin Miles and Robert Davidson, opened the first college of homeopathy in London and I started there when that college started. It was very different in those days because we sort of stumbled through. We didn’t have all the information, all the help, and all the teaching that you have nowadays. In some ways, it was simpler but we didn’t know very much. You had to learn it on the hoof.
At that time, there were other small homeopathy groups forming throughout Europe. Were your groups in the UK connecting with them at that time?
I don’t think we were aware of other people. We weren’t aware of anything that was happening in other parts of Europe or the US, apart from Greece, because George Vithoulkas came on the scene in the early 80s. If you went to his seminars, you met homeopaths there from other European countries and some from America, but really cooperation didn’t actually come up in those days. People were just focused on what they were doing.
What was your experience of setting up a practice in the 1980s, compared to what you are seeing today?
In the early 80s, it was quite easy to set up a clinic and have a very busy practice. There was a big boom in demand for alternative medicine and particularly homeopathy. There weren’t that many alternative practitioners doing a lot of different things. And patients just came. I never advertised. They just came by word of mouth.
It’s more difficult for graduates nowadays, for all sorts of reasons. It’s partly due to the proliferation of alternative practitioners. Maybe the economic situation is a factor. In Britain, there is also a very vociferous anti-homeopathy brigade, which may put graduates off from setting up or deter people from studying homeopathy in the first place, but I’m not sure how much difference they make. It hasn’t affected my practice.
You’re in the trenches with the students today because you do a lot of teaching. What are you seeing happen after they graduate?
Among the students who finally graduate, it’s hard to know how many actually set up a practice, but many of them do put a lot of energy into this. If people have been professionals before starting homeopathy, they expect to be professionals with homeopathy. Some of the very good people eventually give up because they don’t manage to make a living. It’s disheartening for them. They don’t want a hobby. They want something that they can put their heart and souls into, make a living, and also feel that they are operating as a profession.
I can’t speak for America but I think that in Britain, in the last year or two, things have changed slightly and homeopathy is on the up again. We’ve reached the nadir and we’ve come out of it. A lot has gone by the wayside; a lot of colleges have gone by the wayside, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. It will take some time but things are beginning to improve.
A lot of great work and coordination is happening in the UK right now. I’m thinking, for example, about what the 4Homeopathy group and people like Mani Norland are doing. Do you think that’s part of what is driving the upswing?
Certainly Mani Norland is doing an awful lot of great work for homeopathy. It’s difficult to judge what causes what exactly. Homeopathy has gone up and down in popularity but the candle never blows out. It flickered, dangerously, for a while here and then there is an innate recovery.
What has happened in the last few years is that the profession has been shaken up. It needed to be shaken up. We needed to look at ourselves, sharpen up our ideas, sharpen up our practices, sharpen up our work, and put all of our focus into it. I believe that has happened. Because things can only improve from within. We know this. We’re a medicine that knows that sickness comes from within. It doesn’t come from the outside. You can blame outside factors; you can blame the recession; you can blame anything you’d like. But the only way you can recover is from within, and I think we are doing that. That’s probably the most important thing.
In spite of current challenges, you seem optimistic about the trends you’re seeing then. Can you share more about that?
One of the things that’s changed – is changing gradually – in England is that we’ve stopped infighting among homeopaths about which is the best and only way to do homeopathy. There was a disunity within our community, so really nobody on the outside needed to do it. We were quite successfully destroying ourselves. Now there’s a lot more unity.
The other danger in homeopathy is a victim feeling – that were are victims of this and that, victims of the government, the medical professionals, the pharmaceutical companies… Once you’ve made yourself the victim, you will find bullies everywhere. You can’t have bullies if you don’t have victims. Whereas, again, the change needs to come from our community. Dropping the disunity and the victim mentality and actually concentrating on the homeopathy and working together, we strengthen our profession. And I think we’re already doing that.
Some homeopaths maintain that in order to save homeopathy we must bring it into mainstream healthcare, for example by integrating into the hospital systems. This has been successful in some countries. Do you agree that this is the only possible future for homeopathy?
I wouldn’t say that’s the only future for homeopathy. If that were the only possible future, then homeopathy would die out in England. There are two factors to consider. Homeopathy used to be part of the NHS in England and they’re doing what they can to get rid of it. They’ve been closing down homeopathic hospitals and there’s very little homeopathy on the NHS now. The other factor is that there’s a divide in England. It would be very difficult for non-doctors to be part of the National Health Service. I don’t know in other countries but it’s probably the same in Europe, where most homeopaths are doctors. In some European countries, it’s illegal to practice unless you’re a doctor.
That said, the future of health as I see it more and more requires an integrated health service, and homeopathy needs to be part of that. We need to operate from the perspective that no system of medicine offers 100% cure. So to me the best future for health would be an integrated medicine system that includes allopathic medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture and other natural medicines – all these working together as an integrated whole. This doesn’t imply that we would bring professional homeopaths into the hospitals, because that’s not going to happen, but it would mean creating more movement between the different systems of medicine, with referrals coming from all sides.
Are you seeing any integrated medicine initiatives that fit this idea? One example that comes to mind are Prince Charles’ advocacy efforts and his recent announcement regarding plans for an integrated medicine clinic.
Yes. Prince Charles is worth talking about. He intends to set up a center for integrated medicine in a very poor part of Scotland so that poor people have access to all sorts of complementary therapies. Another example is Elizabeth Thompson’s integrative medical center, which was set up after they closed the homeopathic hospital in Bristol. Both these initiatives are private clinics; they’re not part of the national system. Prince Charles recently hosted a reception celebrating natural medicine at Highgrove, which was fantastic. It was really fun. The event mainly brought together people from the College of Medicine, but there were also the homeopathic doctors from Bristol; Rachel Roberts, who is at the head of Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI); and a group of us from the School of Homeopathy in Stroud who were invited.
Prince Charles is a bit of a renegade in the eyes of the establishment. He doesn’t get a lot of support from them so he goes out on his own. He is as vocal as he can be and he gets criticized for not keeping quiet because he says things other than what the conventional establishment wants to hear. There was an article in the press about him recently but he is also dismissed because he supports organic gardening and homeopathy. He’s a good man.
What message or advice would you give to the next generation of homeopaths?
I would tell them to just focus on homeopathy and on improving homeopathy because that’s the important thing: you’ve got to be a good homeopath. I would also recommend, when they want to set up, doing talks in their local community, at places like antenatal and post-natal health clinics, health groups, mother and baby groups, all those kinds of settings. That is the best way to present yourself, by actually presenting yourself.
People will go to someone they have seen and they like. Even if you don’t get people immediately, they will come. Leafleting and online and social media are also important and necessary, I’m sure – and the younger generation all use them – but I still believe the old-fashioned way, where people personally see who you are, is crucial, particularly if they’re going to trust their children to you. The personal is important. We live in a world where everything is done online but I’m not sure people are happy with that when it comes to their health and the health of their children.
This approach is very grassroots. You seem to be saying, “Reach the people.”
Exactly. In your community. We have the world wide web where everybody’s out there with letters after their name and you don’t know what people are claiming really. It becomes meaningless. When they see and connect with you as a person, people are more likely to come to you.
I’d like to go back to the idea you just shared, that the next generation should aim to improve homeopathy by being good homeopaths. Do you think the homeopathy schools are doing a good job of preparing students?
The schools are doing the best they can really, given everything. The standards can be higher, though, and I have some argument with the fact that it’s very easy to get into the homeopathy colleges. Not everyone who is getting in is sufficiently prepared so there needs to be more rigour in the admission procedure. That said, homeopathy school should just be seen as your first education, as just the beginning. When you come out of one of the colleges you’re only just starting – it takes a lot more study, seminars, and constant input to become a good homeopath.
One big gap that I see in homeopathy education is the teaching of first aid remedies. The schools on the whole don’t concentrate much on first aid, but students can take initiative and study it themselves, become proficient, and teach first aid courses in their community. And the experience will be personal; they will see you teaching and that makes a difference. People will start using the remedies and see them working – and then they’re going to come to you. It will hook them into homeopathy.