Back to home page

This book review is reprinted with the permission of the American Institute of Homeopathy
801 N. Fairfax Street, Suite 306
Alexandria, VA 22314

Portraits of Homeopathic Medicines, Volume 3
by Catherine R. Coulter
Hardbound, 338 pages, 1998
Reviewed by George Guess, M.D., D.Ht.

I've yet to read a homeopathic text even remotely as literary as Catherine Coulter's Portraits. Her prose, liquid and precise, flows through the pages, through and around novel depictions of polychrests, eddying at remedy illustrations drawn from clinical cases and characters in classical literature, and bubbling through evident wit and humorous anecdotes. Surely from the standpoint of pure reading pleasure Ms. Coulter's work surpasses all others. This quality alone is enough to recommend it. But the informational content, too, speaks volumes.

The prevailing thrust of current materia medica is toward cutting edge homeopathy-new provings, "small" remedies, highly original and creative syntheses of remedy images employing thematic approaches, etc. Along the way, with a few exceptions, our familiar polychrests have been ignored. Ms. Coulter corrects this oversight with brilliance. In this volume she continues her labor of providing highly original insights into the many subtleties of our polychrests-in this case Aurum, Thuja, Graphites, Causticum. She approaches her descriptions from the perspective of relatively normal psychological behavior, focusing on the many flavors of "normal" behavior and thinking that characterize these remedies. While much is mentioned that is already known, none say it so well. But much has not yet been said, and herein lies the value for the seasoned homeopath. Fresh, original insights abound, to wit:

Coulter describes Causticum as a balanced, reliable, and emotionally stable individual; he is also self-accepting in the face of set backs, tolerant and eminently sociable, yet he has a shadow side consisting of aberrant behavior and competitiveness.

Graphites, according to Coulter, relies heavily on the use of humor to protect him from the turbulence of feeling. He is given to mirth and jesting, and, as is known (but not so well described), impudence, especially the Graphites child. The impudence of Graphites, though, more often evokes a laughing response than one of anger or exasperation. Another characteristic that Coulter emphasizes is the artistic sensitivity of the remedy, but Graphites is an unfulfilled artist, unable to find a creative outlet, a medium of expression.

Lest some question the veracity of her observations, let the following case bear witness. I had a case of a young woman, a college senior, who previously had seemingly done quite well after doses of Arsenicum album and Baryta carbonica for an anxiety disorder. She later returned complaining of some depression, which was related to her inability to decide upon a direction to take after graduation. She was foggy mentally and suffered difficulty in concentration. She lacked initiative and often found herself questioning her past, her identity and her future. She felt "unintelligent" and "void of ideas." She was sluggish, sleepy, slow, depressed, lackadaisical, indolent. She was indifferent to her clothing, her schoolwork, and her appearance. She found it hard to interact with people due to a feeling of disconnectedness. She didn't feel herself, wasn't participating in her own life. She was extremely self-conscious. Her memory was poor. There was a distinct numbness of the right labia. She found it hard to talk to most men. She was photophobic, chilly, craved milk which she found comforting. Bruxism in sleep was prominent. Her symptoms were ameliorated in the evening and night. Four p.m. was her worst hour. At this point in the case the above information in addition to information gleaned from previous casetakings put me in mind of Thuja; the possibility of Graphites also occurred to me. Then she volunteered that she felt as if her artistic nature was trapped inside her, that it was seeking expression and could not find an outlet. Anytime she did feel creative she felt a lot better. I had just read of the frustrated creativity of Graphites in Coulter's book that day. It seemed a fortuitous bit of synchronicity. Graphites 200C was prescribed, to the patient's great relief!

In addition to the materia medica of individual remedies, Ms. Coulter also provides four very interesting chapters of differential materia medica, the topics: indifference, clairvoyance, suspicion, and generosity These differentials are very thorough and rewarding.

There were several instances where I laughed out loud at some of Ms. Coulter's humorous anecdotes. Here is an illustration: in the midst of her treatise on "Generosity." Mrs. Coulter speaks of the Calcarea carbonica inclination to nurture others and, as a manifestation of that tendency, the remedy's occassional bent to dream of having forgotten to care for a charge. She continues further "...(and it is to the dying Calcarea carbonica housewife that one attributes the legendary last words, 'There's a meatloaf in the freezer')."

Another comical moment appears in the Causticum chapter when the homeopath, having earlier declined to take credit for a probable beneficial effect of a prescription, subsequently, when complimented for effecting a curative change which was more dubious "...submitted graciously to more credit that he perhaps deserved, rationalizing to himself that any exaggerated powers attributed to him as dispenser of the remedies merely balanced the ledger against all those occasions when he was not given his due... "

Another source of my personal perpetual amusement when reading these Portraits is the remarkable erudition of the patients cited. The dialogue between patients and homeopath here tends to read like a script for "Masterpiece Theater." Don't mistake me; the dialogue is enjoyable and illustrative, but, I suspect, more than a little filtered by Ms. Coulter's superb command of the English language.

It is asserted by several exceptional homeopaths, and rightly so, that homeopaths by and large rely too much upon the polychrests and miss the wealth of healing potential available in smaller remedies. Nonetheless, a solid grounding in the polychrests is essential for all homeopaths. Coulter's Portraits significantly contributes to our knowledge of several polychrests; volume three continues this work admirably. Both neophyte and experienced homeopaths will find much of use in this and her other volumes, and the aesthetics of her well-crafted prose will make the acquisition of this knowledge that much more pleasurable.

JAIH Spring 1999, Vol. 92, No. 1