In 2005 I interviewed Ernest Roberts for my book Looking Back Moving Forward. I recently heard that he passed away. I wanted to post his interview, because he was one of my energetic interviewees and he takes us right back to the renaissance of our profession in the ’70s and ’80s. So rest, make yourself comfortable and step back in history with me. RIP Ernest and thanks for sharing your energy and wisdom with us!
ERNEST: During the last fifteen years and up until recently I have been going to Alonissos to visit George Vithoulkas every year. We always have a chat and he frequently asks me what homeopathy is like in England, but I admit I do have quite a jaundiced view. In particular, last year, we had quite a long conversation and I told him, in my opinion, I feel certain teachers have tried to destroy classical homeopathy. I really do think they have spread a kind of image of what classical homeopathy is which is totally erroneous. I think this has done a lot of harm to the British scene and even though I think there are some very good things going on, there is a great deal of antagonism towards what I consider Hahnemannian homeopathy.
ROWENA: How would you say they portray classical homeopathy?
ERNEST: They say that classical homeopaths give a high potency and then they wait and wait and wait; this is a parody. You have got to know what you are waiting for. Kent says it quite clearly, you are waiting for a return of old symptoms; you are waiting to see the direction of cure in correspondence with the order the symptoms came in the first place. It is a scientific process but they caricature it and there are several other things all along those lines. So it puts people off and causes them to question the validity of the Organon; of Hahnemann in this day and age. Homeopathy is going through such transformations at the moment. I have just finished reading Rajan Sankaran’s new book, the Sensation in Homeopathy, have you read it yet?
ROWENA: I have got it here but I haven’t read it yet.
ERNEST: It is a hell of a book. I think what Sankaran has done is rewritten the Organon. It is absolutely amazing how he has just gone back to the original meanings.
ROWENA: So rewritten it in a good way?
ERNEST: Oh yes, it is absolutely fantastic; the man is a genius. I have known Rajan for many years. He visited our college and stayed a few days and I have attended his seminars and sat in with him in Bombay for a period. I know the man very well and am full of admiration for him.
ROWENA: Do you think colleges will now be teaching Sankaran’s new method?
ERNEST: No, not all colleges.
ROWENA: Will you?
ERNEST: Oh, we do already. We give lectures on his methods and have done so for the past two years with the fourth and fifth year and also as a continual professional development programme for our graduates and students from other colleges.
ROWENA: And is it seen as a ‘methodology’ or is it just an extension of classical homeopathy?
ERNEST: I am not sure what you mean by methodology. I recommend Ian Watson’s methodology book to my students, and then I will tell them to read it critically and to compare it with my own textbook so as to put it into perspective. In my opinion, the whole issue about methodologies is ridiculous. It is breaking up homeopathy into neat compartments, which is totally false. He says about ‘classical homeopathy’ that it only takes into account the emotional and mental symptoms and not many remedies are known to that extent and therefore it has a very limited application. This is the absolute opposite to what homeopathy is about. I have shared my views with Vithoulkas so maybe he has a slightly jaundiced view of homeopathy in England because of listening to me.
Janet Snowdon said to me the other day that she thinks that now the best homeopaths are the medical homeopaths. In my early days, I think they were the worst. There is an article by Margaret Tyler called ‘How Not to Do It’. She explains her experience of changing from being a doctor using homeopathic medicines to being a classical homeopath after having trained with Kent. She just writes down all the terrible things that I heard about when I started practising in 1983. In those first ten years I came across many patients who had been prescribed by medical homeopaths, many different remedies all in high potencies as if they were dolly mixtures. When they came to see me some had confused pictures as a result of their homeopathic treatment.
That was always my impression of medical homeopaths because the Faculty had been cut down so badly in the 1940s. But then I met two or three doctors working in the Homeopathic Hospital in London. One of them was Philip Bailey, the author of Homeopathic Psychology. David Curtin began his training of doctors properly and they are very good, very professional and quite classical. They all mostly trained to some extent with Vithoulkas. There is a Dr Peyrhuber who is an old friend of mine who lives in Salzburg, Austria who also trained with Vithoulkas. His book shows how to cure very advanced cancers using Scholten’s method with great success.
I believe there is a lot of hope within homeopathy but it is hard to put your finger on it. In my book, Homoeopathy: Principles and Practice, I give this anecdote, which I got from Michael Haggiag. Michael is an American who studied with Misha Norland at the same time as me and he went back to the States. He said that Teddy Roosevelt was a patient of Kent’s and when he gave money out to the medical schools he didn’t give any to the homeopathic schools and Kent asked him why. He replied “Well, it is unteachable”. Well it shouldn’t be, not now, not in the energetic era we live in. Most of our graduates are doing good work and are busy.
ROWENA: So how do you get that over to them; how do you get them to earn a good living?
ERNEST: We always say charge what you will; look around at other people’s fees, look at the medical doctor homeopaths’ fees and value yourself fully. We always say that right through the course. It is very important. I charge £95 for a first consultation and £45 for follow-ups. I encourage people to charge what they are worth and if you are good your patients will pay and recommend many people. If you are good you will cure people with homeopathy and you will be busy. Years ago I put my fees up in order to get time to myself but I got busier. They thought I must be the best because I was charging the most.
There is this new way of prescribing called ‘sequential’ and what I have seen is that it is like working with formulas but you can’t work with a formula in homeopathy; it has got to be individualised. It is only by chance that you will get a result if you work with formulas.
ROWENA: So what do you think of the Ramakrishnan method of prescribing for cancer then?
ERNEST: I think it is excellent; I think it is classical homeopathy. It is what Hahnemann and Kent say, when you have got serious pathology like cancer. Kent says to treat the pathology paying sufficient attention to the nature of the patient. If the prescription doesn’t have some connection to the patient’s nature then you are palliating but palliation is within classical homeopathy. It is a valid part of treating incurable cases and you have got to know when a case is incurable and when it isn’t.
David Evans mainly teaches the medical side here at North-West but he does bring in therapeutics as well. I think there is a place for therapeutics but organ support is not part of homeopathy; it is not part of classical homeopathy at all. If you are palliating then it is useful. If you are treating a person curatively and you need an organ remedy you are going to have to work with what Kent says; you have got to fit judiciously to the nature of the person or else it is not homeopathy. It is naturopathy and there is nothing wrong with that and I admire naturopathy. What I have done is taken some of the common organ remedies like Digitalis and one or two others, and found some excellent mental and emotional symptoms and modalities – totalities of symptoms of the remedy – and written them up including the remedy’s organ affinities. I always teach affinities are very important. You can’t ignore affinities and regions when you are taking a case. The onus is not purely on the mental and emotional level.
We know you can get one-sided cases on any level, not just difficult ones. It is very important to be able to recognise the kind of case you are dealing with and that is what I teach. I ascertained most of my information about organ remedies from Vithoulkas. There is a beautiful quote from Kent where he says of Magnesium muriaticumthat it is one of our prime liver remedies. He continues that “if a homeopathic physician can be forgiven for speaking in these terms”, it is a beautiful remedy. And you will find that in Vithoulkas’ Materia Medica Viva.
I use Vithoulkas’ Twelve Levels of Health. If you have them in mind you know what you are treating and what to expect. If you start taking the case and you have got the history of the patient’s illness, you know whether you can just find a polycrest and then sit back and watch the patient getting better and better on repeated doses of that one remedy. These are simple cases of healthy people with just one or two layers. When you get patients who are further down that Twelve Levels of Health framework; then you know you are working with more complicated cases.
Vithoulkas isn’t popular in England, in other countries and in Greece you get hundreds of homeopaths enrolled on his video courses. I have a very close friend who did the original one and she benefited from it tremendously. The Twelve Levels is quite simple. There are four groups and the first group has a history of very few acutes. They don’t have lots of treatments, they get over acutes fairly quickly or with very little treatment and they have very healthy constitutions.
Then the next level has lots of acutes; this is the group we get most of really. They have a history of cystitis or headaches and migraine every so often and therefore they have had to have lots of treatment. And in this second group you will find there are probably two or three remedies or two or three layers. I relate this to when I am teaching how to handle people on allopathic drugs because there is a crossover. There is a relationship between the Twelve Levels and taking allopathic drugs. At this level you have got to look for a top layer. You have got to spend a lot more time, very carefully, finding what the first remedy is because there is no such thing as a constitutional remedy in groups three and four. There is only a series of remedies prescribed in the correct sequence; can you say that the constitutional one is the first one – the one that opened up the case – or the last one that actually finished the cure? There isn’t a single constitutional in complex cases, so we teach people to know what to look for, what to treat. If you get the first remedy correct you begin a process of deep cure and then you have to get the best remedies in the correct order.
The third group is where there is very serious advanced systemic pathology and the same thing applies as the second group, although it is not so easy and you can’t see the remedy so clearly. This is where you need a lot of experience to get the right remedies and this is where Sankaran is working. He gives you a terrific insight and an in-road and key into these difficult multi-layered cases. He says that to find the remedy you have got to know the substance. It is fascinating.
ROWENA: I want to know how you got into homeopathy in the beginning Ernest.
ERNEST: Well, it was through a horse really.
ROWENA: Well that is unique!
ERNEST: I was lecturing at polytechnics and I gave my job up and then my wife at the time and I ended up in a commune in Norfolk. This was when the kids were tiny and we built gypsy caravans and repaired horse-drawn vehicles. Then I got this horse. I bought him on the cheap because he had rheumatism and a friend of mine turned up and gave him a homeopathic remedy, which improved his rheumatism, so he was then able to pull the cart better and be quite active. My friend told us all about homeopathy and my wife and I decided to enrol on Thomas Maughan’s homeopathy classes. We used to go to London every fortnight to sell bread. We made bread, which was one way for the commune to make money, and took it to health food shops and stayed with friends. We went to Thomas’s homeopathy classes on Fridays and Saturdays up until he died in 1976. And then the College of Homeopathy started and I joined the second intake. Janet Snowdon was in the first intake and David Mundy and Misha Norland were two of our teachers.
ROWENA: Who else was in your intake?
ERNEST: I sat between Jeremy Sherr and Murray Feldman and Jeremy and I argued the whole time!
ROWENA: What did you argue about?
ERNEST: Anything! When we came back to London from the commune and we lived in Blackheath I did go for homeopathy myself. I started teaching yoga and healing and I went to Martin Miles for something and it cleared up quite quickly.
ROWENA: So what was Martin like in those days?
ERNEST: He was the same man he is now. He was my teacher and friend and I used to go to his class, which used to be Thomas’s medical class every other Saturday. I used to go to Kaaren Whitney’s class every fortnight, too, and to Misha’s class every Monday and that is how I learned homeopathy. When I started going to college I didn’t learn as much as in these classes, which I continued to attend.
ERNEST: Well, the teaching was just so erratic. We had one project that was never marked or given back to us. They had a few clinics run by students who had just graduated and, to be quite honest, by that time I knew more than they did, because I had been attending classes with all these wonderful teachers for two years.
ROWENA: Who inspired you most in those days?
ERNEST: David Mundy. He is one of my great teachers, even now. As you know, he teaches at our college on our course. He teaches every month for twelve hours and lives in Manchester now so we get his brains regularly, but to be honest we always have done. And Misha was good too.
ROWENA: So what is it that David does that is so special?
ERNEST: He is just absolutely devoted and dedicated. He works so hard and reads everything. He goes to every seminar and he is always learning. Years ago George Vithoulkas asked all the teachers around the world to a big teachers’ conference in Alonissos. David and his wife Tasha were there. Rajan and Jayesh came as did the big names from America and it was a great conference. When it finished we had a few days before we got our flights back home and I went fishing with Tasha while David went around the islands with Rajan and Jayesh. I asked Tasha what he was doing and why he wasn’t relaxing, and she said that he had to learn and he wanted to make the most of being with Rajan all the time.
ROWENA: So when did your wife study?
ERNEST: My second wife is one of our graduates and has been practising for twelve years. I am divorced from the wife who is the mother of my children and she didn’t go into homeopathy. She went into counselling and does very well. My present wife is one of our graduates.
ROWENA: Other than David Mundy and Misha, who inspired you at your time of study?
ERNEST: David Curtin was very good. He taught us medical sciences. He was the first person we knew who went to Alonissos with other doctors and he came back with teachings on the materia medicas which he had learned from George. That was the first time we had come across George’s teachings; it was just wonderful. David is a very good homeopath. Sheilagh Creasy taught at college and I was very impressed with her because she is a good classical homeopath and I got her to come and teach at our college.
ROWENA: So tell me more about your relationship with George Vithoulkas?
ERNEST: Yes, well, he has been my greatest friend always. He started these seminars in London and they were held every three months for two years but they were planned to go on indefinitely. I went to them all and this was about the time I met a lot of those medics like Brain Kaplan and a few others. We always got on really well and shared our experience of homeopathy. I took a case to a seminar of a high-pressured businessman with a peptic ulcer. Before I was under the influence of Vithoulkas’ teachings, I had been giving him Kali carbonic because he was so rigid. He had a Japanese garden and he was very closed and uptight and to my mind he was a Kali carbonicum. In the intervening period when he got the abdominal pain I was giving him remedies like Robinea.
I had learned at college about organ support and remedies for the immediate acute condition and that is how I was prescribing for this case. That is what is great about the Twelve Levels; you know when to do that and when not to and I was doing it wrong. So I took the case to Vithoulkas. It was crowded and there were eminent doctors from Germany, England and America there as well as leading non-doctor homeopaths including David Mundy. And it was obviously a simple and clear Natrum muriaticum case and everyone looked at me quizzically. George was so good; he really looked after me and ever since then George and I have got on really well.
ROWENA: I found him very warm, kind and inviting last summer when I interviewed him. So tell me what would you say are the most important qualities for a successful homeopath?
ERNEST: I don’t know. You have either got it or you haven’t.
ROWENA: Do you think you can tell early on if someone is going to be a success or not?
ERNEST: By half-way through the course you can tell, I think.
ROWENA: So what is it?
ERNSET: The ones that have it, understand the more subtle. They are not always looking on the outside and on the outer; they understand the inner. You see, I once had a patient complain about the fact I hadn’t addressed their physical things and that I hadn’t examined them clinically. Afterwards I said to the students who were sitting in, the patient will never benefit from homeopathy because they are only concerned with the outer flow; they are not concerned with anything inner. Obviously we get a tremendous input of skills and experience and professional ability at the college, the students are fantastic and make a big contribution. We attract very good students and it is only very occasionally when we realise we have got someone who is not. They usually leave because they realise they are not suited to this work. It is not very often, because our interview techniques have improved tremendously so we don’t need to lose many students.
ROWENA: How many students do you have in your college?
ERNEST: We take between twenty-five and thirty-five and we don’t lose many. A few leave but they often come back. We failed one student who just did not do the work to the required standard.
ROWENA: How do you feel about the new remedies? Do you ever prescribe them?
ERNEST: Rarely. I have seen David Mundy prescribe them and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. But did you read an article by Scholten about prejudice in homeopathy? Briefly, he said if you take Hahnemann’s proving of Arsenicum album you won’t find any Arsenicum symptoms that you prescribe on. The picture of the remedy is ascertained from years of clinical experience. There is another one by Dr. Ghekas on the same lines. I think the idea of dream provings is not very healthy and I think most modern provings are not very good, but on the other hand I have seen a few excellent ones.
ROWENA: I can’t imagine that someone like Martin Miles, who uses his own remedies, isn’t getting results from them; otherwise why would people be going to him? You know what I mean?
ERNEST: It depends on their level of health. What I have found is that people use these methods for advanced pathology. Ordinary patients at better levels of health who are prescribed remedies in that way can consequently have their ‘all picture’ destroyed and become incurable thereafter.
ROWENA: Realistically, Ernest, how long do you think it takes to set up a busy practice?
ERNEST: Seven years. I didn’t start teaching until I had built my practice up but I do remember spending two days a week for a month struggling, writing up all the homeopathic remedies for rheumatism using Herbert Robert’s rheumatism book as a base, and blow me the next two months I began to get busy with rheumatism patients. You keep working and you tell people what you do. You treat them properly and charge them what is fair for you, and you can’t but succeed.
ROWENA: What lessons do you think are crucial for a homeopath to learn?
ERNEST: Not to want quick results, to wait and be patient and follow the principles.
ROWENA: Do you think there is no such thing as a quick result?
ERNEST: Well, it depends on which of the Twelve Levels you are at. It depends on the patient and how good the picture is.
ROWENA: How long have you followed the Twelve Levels then?
ERNEST: Well, George taught this to me in a different form many years ago when it was not quite so simple and clear. I went to Alonissosfirst in 1984, and even in his early days he used to talk about layers and prescribing within a layer. Prescribing so you get a profound change in health and how patients would then jump onto a layer, which is healthier. So he always had this concept, but with these Twelve Levels he has refined it and made it much clearer and simpler to understand and much easier to use and that is in the last five or six years. He has always taught the importance of knowing what level of health your patient is in when they sit in front of you and not to prescribe inappropriately; what to prescribe for first and for which layer. He has always told us that in all his casework and all his teachings.
ROWENA: Do you see homeopathy becoming dormant again?
ERNEST: No, I don’t think so. Obviously it depends on the kind of opinion among the people and you can’t predict that and it is said that things go in cycles. But I don’t think so. Our college is pretty vibrant and I think other good colleges are too.
ROWENA: So why do you think students should come to your college?
ERNEST: Well, we get the best teachers and we have such good fun.
ROWENA: It sounds like it from speaking to you! You have such enthusiasm!
ERNEST: We have got some great people who make good contributions. We are extremely thorough and we have very close supervision. We spend a lot of our income on supervision so the students are constantly looked after. I think that is very important. We have recently just discovered that some students are having difficulty with their contracts – how often they can see their supervisor – so we are working to improve it. We are constantly working on improving things all the time.
ROWENA: I have found that classical homeopathy training is accused of leaving graduates fearful. What do you think of this opinion?
ERNEST: I think it is the opposite. That is what happened at the college I was at. We left there confused and we hadn’t been taught classical homeopathy properly. Now our students are very confident. We have got some very good graduates practising in the area and they are all busy.
ROWENA: Thank you very much for your time Ernest!
Long Live Homeopathy!