AVH CERTIFICATION COMMITTEE
There is a unique combination of qualities that characterizes each substance, each remedy, and each object. For example, if we asked you to guess the identity of an object that is cold and hard, you might have difficulty. However, if we described the object as cold, hard, wet, and transparent, you could tell us this is ice. Characteristic symptoms are those qualities that together, individualize both the remedy and the patient.
One of the major differences between allopathic medicine and homeopathy is that the allopath looks at the end stage of disease; pathology. Thus they are concerned with common symptoms and use physical substances to change things at the physical level. Homeopaths recognize that disease is a mistunement of the life force. This mistunement precedes any pathology. This central disturbance is what needs to be cured in the patient.
Characteristic symptoms (not common symptoms) are a reflection of that disturbance; they occur before pathology and are closest to the center. An analogy, which demonstrates the difference between characteristic and common symptoms, is that of a person dressed in costume. If you focus your attention on the features of the costume you will miss the person. The costume can be worn be anyone; it does not reflect the individual person.
To know the individual requires that you look for specific characteristics such as voice, posture, gait, mannerisms, etc. Though our training is to focus on common symptoms, the use of these symptoms in rubric selection and in remedy selection will not lead to cure.
Thus, our primary concern during case taking is to elicit those symptoms that characterize the particular state of the patient. The question that arises in beginning homeopaths is what constitutes characteristic symptoms and how do we identify them. Here are some guidelines:
1. Find out how the disease began and identify causes if possible.
2. Look at changes that reflect a central disturbance rather than pathology; things that affect the whole patient, rather than specific parts.
3. Look for a change in behavior, inappropriate behavior, general modalities, preferences or aversions, intolerances, strange or unusual symptoms, unexpected symptoms, etc.
4. Probe into the details of each symptom to find, that which is unique, strange, or peculiar.
Case Example (characteristic symptoms are underlined)
Signalment: 1988 F/S DSH
Chief complaint: Pruritus, sudden onset 12/95. Treated w/ Depo-Medrol inj.
History: Acquired in 1991 and vaccinated yearly until 1993 (no reactions)
Upper resp. infection w/ fever, cough, ocular discharge 10/95;
suppressed with antibiotics
skittish (startles easily) and fearful of the other cats since 10/95
Current symptoms: pruritus of the caudal 1/2 of the body, worse on waking
w/ alopecia, erythema, hot spots, and twitching
the cat is very irritable when pruritic
skittish since suppression of the respiratory symptoms
drools when happy
vomits food immediately after eating - occasional
burps after eating - daily
Rubrics: Generalities, Medicines, abuse of allopathic
Mind, startles easily
Stomach, eructations after eating
Stomach, vomits food immediately
Rx = Nitric acid 200c one dose. Recheck in 3 weeks.
Once you have identified the characteristic symptoms, use them to select the rubrics that are most appropriate to the case. These in turn will guide you to the best remedies. During the remedy selection process, match the characteristics of the patient to those of the remedy. Do not rule out a remedy because a characteristic of the remedy is not present in the patient, but do rule out the remedy if the characteristics of the patient are not found in the remedy. Also, do not choose a remedy on the basis of common symptoms.
Once you have given the remedy, monitor the characteristic symptoms. Note that because they reflect the central disturbance, they will be the last symptoms to resolve. Hering's law applies in this way: pathological symptoms will resolve from the inside out and from the top down. Characteristic symptoms will be extinguished last. If the remedy is not the simillimum, it will not touch the characteristic symptoms. Thus, if the characteristic symptoms are not improving, look for another remedy. The characteristic symptoms will also guide you in knowing when to change remedies. If there is a change in the characteristic symptoms (ie, a change in the central disturbance), then you know
you have a change in state and thus, you must find a new remedy. If the characteristic symptoms remain unchanged and there is evidence of progress in the case but new symptoms have emerged, continue with the same remedy. The key to success in homeopathic practice is learning to discern characteristic symptoms and to focus your attention on them all the way through the case. We hope this has been helpful and welcome your feedback.
1. Kent, James; Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy. p. 199-214
2. Professional Course notes
3. Organon of the Medical Art by Samuel Hahnemann, Edited by Wenda Brewster
O'Reilly PhD; Paragraphs 3, 7, 82-104.