Career Focus - The World of Complementary Medicine and Alternative Therapies


A German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann, rediscovered the principle of "like cures like" (first written about by Hippocrates in 5th century BC - ideas such as rubbing chillblains with snow) in the late 18th century. Rejecting the strong medicines , leeches, violet purges and other severe practises of the day, Hahnemann developed homeopathy, from the Greek homoios (same) and pathos (suffering). His starting point was the contemporary use of quinine to treat maleria, allegedly due to its bitter qualities.

Hahnemann's ideas quickly spread across Europe to Asia and the Americas. In the 1820's, two US doctors expanded his theories: Dr. Constrantine Hering developed the "laws of cures" which explain how disease is cured in homeopathy, while Dr. James Tyler Kent introduced the concept of "constitutional types" (this is where illness is considered to be the result of inner imbalance and patients can be categorised as a certain constituational 'type').

Homeopath - Zoe Bethell

Zoe Bethell is a trained Homeopath and Community Psychiatric Nurse.


The Interview

Name - Zoe Bethell

Location - Kedington, Nr Haverhill, Suffolk

Family - Nicola (26) works as a dental nurse, lives in London, married to Andrew with one son Sidney(5), India (20) at Leeds Met University, Jack (7)


How did you become a Homeopath? What is your background?

I first heard about homeopathy when I was pregnant with my first child many years ago. As a nurse I have always been aware of the very unpleasant side effects of many conventional drugs and interested in alternative approaches. The more I read about homeopathy, the more fascinated I became. I started using it to treat common problems with the children such as Arnica after a fall or injury. My two eldest especially were often ill with tonsilitis and ear infections and before I became aware of how effective homeopathy could be they were always being prescribed antibiotics and in fact both girls had their tonsils taken out at a young age. I knew that I wasn’t happy with the treatment but did not realise that homeopathy could actually prevent this from happening if prescribed in time.

What exactly does Homeopathy involve?

Homeopathy involves treating the symptoms of illness with a substance which will produce the same symptoms in a healthy person - known as treating 'like with like'. The doses used are tiny but incredibly powerful in their capacity to stimulate the body to enhance its own natural healing process. The main difference between homeopathy and conventional medicine lies in the action of the medicine: in conventional treatment we try to suppress symptoms of illness by using 'anti' inflammatories, 'anti' depressants, 'anti' histamines. Homeopathy mirrors the signs of illness and recognises that the symptoms of disease are also part of the healing process. For example, when a child has an infection such as tonsilitis the body produces a fever to facilitate and speed up the blood flow to direct beneficial white blood cells to the affected area. Conventional medicine can suppress the fever effectively but can also interrupts the natural healing process of the body. Homeopathy does not suppress the fever but enhances the good work of dealing with the infection while safely controlling the rate of temperature rise and minimising the risks.

What sort of problems/issues do clients normally have when they come to you for help/therapy?

People come to see me for all kinds of reasons. Usually there is a long term health problem which has not responded well to conventional treatment, such as joint pains, eczema, psoriasis, M.E., asthma, insomnia. I also work as a homeopath for the NHS in Cambridge and take referrals from the Drug and Alcohol Service at Brookfields Hospital. These patients all have a serious problem with addiction to drugs or alcohol and may have other mental health problems as well such as depression or anxiety. Some are HIV positive and many have hepatitis C which can greatly undermine the general quality of their health. Often with these patients there is a history of deep seated trauma, such as bereavement at an early age, physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence etc. One of the things which seems to happen very often in treatment is that people find that as their general health improves, their perception of themselves and their self esteem and confidence also improves sometimes to a very significant degree.

What/Where was your training? How long did it take overall?

I did my training at Allen College of Homeopathy in Chelmsford and qualified in June 2004, It is a four year part time course and the expectation is that you will try to do about 20 hours study a week at home in addition to the weekends at college every month. Most people who train as homeopaths have children and busy lives already but the burning desire to learn more about this fascinating subject keeps most people going through thick and thin. As students we all supported each other when the going got tough especially around exam time. Many people on my course had never done any further education, or had not studied for many years.

In January 2005 I went to Kolkata in India to do a three week post graduate training course in the slum clinics in the city. This was a really wonderful experience which will stay with me for the rest of my life.

How did training fit round your children?

The trick of fitting it around family life is to have a good support network of friends and family, to be very organised and self disciplined in allocating time for family and study and work etc, to look after yourself well so that you don't get too stressed by it all. Holidays were really important times to catch up with family and let the study take a back seat. Some things have to be sacrificed along the way; for me this was that for 4 years I did not read a single novel as I was too busy and although to begin with it felt like a great hardship it was definitely worth it. I also did a lot less housework and tried not to mind about the mess which accumulated, - this became easier over time!

Roughly, how much did your training cost?

The cost of the course was about £7,000 in total. Many colleges accept a monthly debit payment which helps spread the cost.

Where do you carry out your work?

I work both from home and from my base at Brookfields Hospital in Cambridge.

Do you need lots of specialist equipment?

The equipment needed includes books (more that you could possibly imagine!), a comprehensive stock of homeopathic medicines known as 'remedies', a bit of space for filing and stationery. A home computer is really useful to produce your own brochures etc and also to keep in email contact with patients and colleagues.

How many hours do you work a week?

I work 24 hours a week at Brookfields but not all of this is homeopathy as I still have my role as a community nurse there also. I see patients from home if I have a free day in the week or on Saturday mornings or weekday evenings.

How does the job fit round your family life?

One of the best things about working from home is the flexibility to work hours which suit you and fit in with the demands of family life.

How do you find clients - do you advertise?

The Yellow Pages is a great source of referrals as is the website for the Society of Homeopaths. Increasingly people come who are referred by friends who have seen me in the past.

What is the earning potential?

The earning potential is a really hard question to answer as I am lucky enough to have most of my income from the NHS. If you were only seeing private patients and had to build up your practice as your main or only source of income you need to be very determined and business minded, but this would be true for anyone setting up a new business. Fees vary depending on location (London being extremely expensive) and can range from between £45 - £100 for an initial consultation to £30 - £50 for a follow up. Some homeopaths offer discounts for the unwaged / OAP’s etc.

Is the job rewarding?

It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life and the achievement which I value the most. It is an extraordinary experience and a great privilege to participate in the recovery of patients especially those who have been suffering for a long time and have nearly lost hope

Do you think it is a job that fits in well with being a Mum?

How does it fit in with being a mum? Not always well! But at the end of the day I think my children feel that I have been a good role model for them as they have seen how hard you to have to work at something like this but how amazing the rewards can be. I think they are as proud of my achievements as I am of theirs. It's very hard to do everything well all the time, but the same would be true of any parent in any situation. There are always compromises to be made.

Do you think you have to have any special qualities (in terms of personality) to become a Homeopath?

To be a good homeopath you have to be compassionate and have good listening skills. You have to like people and not be afraid of hard work.

Any advice for a Mum or Dad wanting to start training?

My advice to anyone thinking about training is just to say that if you want to do something badly enough you will succeed however huge the obstacles may be along the way. Just do it.

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