(first published in New Homeopath, Summer 2022, Society of Homeopaths)
LH: The Contemporary College of Homeopathy is currently celebrating its 25th year. Take us back to when and where it all began.
MB: It all began in the garden. Adam was there. Eve had gone shopping.
LH: Not that far back! How about circa 1996?
MB: Well, that’s when the college came to be, in a very small room at an Osteopathic clinic in Taunton. I started it for many reasons. I was unhappy with the division in homeopathy back then, between so-called classical homeopathy and practical homeopathy, which was led by Robert Davidson. Before I continue, I would say Davidson was a genius – a very flawed character but a great influence on homeopathy overall. He was a maverick though and liked to push the boundaries. At that time, he was basically playing around with the slight arrogance of classical homeopaths who were purists and thought they had the right answers to everything. Davidson went to the other extreme, to the point he was almost ignoring Kent and Hahnemann and devising what was the therapeutic perspective of homeopathy. I felt very unhappy with this approach, as I think classical homeopathy is practical. Kent saw many patients, as did Hahnemann so they had to be practical in their approach. Davidson seemed to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I found it ludicrous – we needed to go back to teaching true homeopathy, which is both classical and practical. The other major reason I founded the college was due to a very special and brilliant homeopath call Ken Metson, from Devon, who agreed with what I was saying and encouraged me from the outset. Somehow, we rallied up ten students and away we went.
LH: What led you to choose the name for the college?
MB: Back then there was The Classical College of Homeopathy and the Practical College of Homeopathy and they were poles apart. They didn’t need to be. I am essentially a ‘classical’ practitioner, so I wanted to take that and usurp it in a way. ‘Classical’ tends to sound antique and museum-like so I chose the word ‘Contemporary’.
LH: What are the values at the heart of the college and have these changed over time?
MB: The values of the college, I’d like to think, haven’t changed over time, any more than the principles of homeopathy haven’t changed. The understanding of the application of the principles has become more refined as we’ve put them into practice. It’s been hard at times, especially in terms of ethics and integrity, and where problems have arisen from most unusual causes, but essentially our values have stayed the same. That is being down to earth, keeping it simple and being available to all. We avoid the esoteric, ‘this is hard’, ‘you’ve got to spiritually evolve’ idea of homeopathy, which, I’ve said many times, is so heavenly, it’s of no earthly use whatsoever. I wanted to keep our teaching grounded. At the time of starting the college, I was practising in Somerset. I had farmers coming in with piles and such like so there wasn’t much use looking at their auras, which I would have no idea how to do anyway. I wanted the college to be available for ‘ordinary’ folk to learn common sense homeopathy in order to treat ‘ordinary’ folk. That was the basis of the college; a solid, no-nonsense yet fun place to learn. In a way the college appears very laid back, which is true of me. I see the college as a team but of course my personality is stamped on it to an extent. People think I’m light and play around, but I’m also incredibly serious about what I do.
LH: What have been the biggest challenges so far?
MB: Not everyone has been on board with our values and a few times that’s caught me off guard. Honesty and transparency run through all aspects of what I do. Integrity is extremely important to me and, as a college, we’ll come down hard on anything we see as being contrary to that. Another challenge has been the geography – it’s felt a bit like Billy Smart’s Circus at times! We started off in Taunton then went to Exeter, moving from one venue to another, and now we’re in Bristol. The moves were due to premises changing hands, University sites selling up, our student numbers increasing. It’s hard growing a college, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve always seen CCH as a tugboat going through rough, choppy seas. Solid, nothing special but we get where we want to go. I’ve seen beautiful big liners carrying all sorts of weird & wonderful homeopathic concepts and philosophies, yet they mostly end up at the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker. Our college has survived for 25 years and I’m fairly sure it will survive another 25. When you go in for a teaching weekend and see the sincerity and professionalism of the students, regardless of the year of study they’re in, along with the enthusiasm and the fun, it makes it all worthwhile.
LH: Anyone who’s experienced your teaching will know you for your witty and entertaining delivery. How did you develop this approach?
MB: I’ve always loved humour and messing around so it’s just me being me really, rather than an approach. I love words and wordplay. People often tell me I should have been an actor and of course I did study theatre at Dartington, which involved directing, dance and playwriting. My specialism was playwriting, which is what I really love. I see that as my introvert side and opposite to the extrovert performer, which I’m more known for. Even at school I played around. We don’t change that much in our lives – if you went back and saw me at school, aged 13, you’d be seeing the same person you’re seeing now, except I probably had a bit more hair and looked less jaundiced. There’s always been a mischievousness in me and of course I use that in my teaching because it’s a great way to put information across. It’s about not being the ‘guru’, but of presenting information in a way that people can understand, absorb and make sense of – that’s good teaching to me. What I teach is very serious but if you teach that seriousness in a way that is assimilable then that’s got it be a good thing. I have fun with my patients too but that’s not to say we’re giggling and sharing jokes all the time. It’s fun in terms of the interaction I try to create; light, empowering and personable, which can help to take away whatever extensional traumas the patient might be going through. By using humour, you often get the patient to see their picture more clearly, that it’s feasible and perhaps not such a major problem.
LH: One of your catchphrases is “keep it simple”. Can you expand on this a little?
MB: A lot of people have used this phrase, when in fact they don’t keep it simple at all. But homeopathy is simple. It’s ‘like cures like’. You don’t even have to find the cause of the symptoms; you just have to match up the symptoms and the substance. So, in that sense, it’s simply about talking to someone and finding what their symptoms are. Of course, there is more to it but it’s good to bring people back to the basics, away from the intellectual, as essentially homeopathy is the interaction between one person and another. It’s important and, like all simple things, it can be hard to apply. It takes practice.
LH: You often talk about walking past the portraits of the great late homeopaths hanging in the corridors of the once Royal Homeopathic Hospital (now the Hospital for Integrated Medicine) and feeling awestruck and humbled in their presence. If you could share a pint of beer and a game of chess with just one of them, who would it be and why?
MB: Well, I don’t know who played chess so that’s a tricky one. They’d have to play chess and they’d have to be a drinker. Foubister I can imagine was a character. Kent I probably wouldn’t know what to say to, and I imagine he wouldn’t go for a drink anyway. Hahnemann, well I can’t speak German, he can’t speak English – we’d both be a bit stuck there. Probably, it would have to be Douglas Borland. I think he had such a simplified approach to Materia Medica. Though he didn’t write much, the detail and clarity in his writing is just lovely. I’d like to think the writing reflects the man himself.
LH: It’s been an extraordinary and unanticipated couple of years, with many obstacles, yet the college has survived and embraced a new approach to combined teaching, allowing students to attend from across the world. What are your hopes for the future?
MB: I think homeopathy has an awful lot to teach everybody about life, about the individual, about freedom. All these have come under enormous threat in recent times. I’m shocked at how things have shifted. Homeopathy is the celebration of the individual and that’s more important than ever. My hopes would be that we continue to offer a treatment that isn’t otherwise available for the diseases and sicknesses we’ve been encountering. Homeopathy ought to have come into its own recently in the same way it did during the 19th century epidemics. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’d like people to start seeing what homeopathy has to offer – without the cynicism and without the media input. I’d like things to open up in terms of discussion and debate. I don’t mind people not liking homeopathy, but we need more discussion, whether we talk about the pandemic, health choices, politics – we’re losing the power to debate and discuss properly. That’s largely because the media are so tightened up in what they can say. Open discussion and expanded thinking are implicit to what we do at the college. We keep class sizes small, allowing great interaction between the students, staff and lecturers. I like the family environment we’ve created. We have a fantastic success rate of students graduating and going into practice, working from the solid foundations they’ve built at the college. Long may this continue.
LH: What would you say to anyone currently thinking about training to be a homeopath?
MB: I’d say, it will change your life. It changed my life. In my early 20s, living in Totnes, my girlfriend at the time bought bread at Cranks and one day she saw an advertisement there for a homeopathic college. I’d never heard of homeopathy but when she told me it was a system of medicine where you treat people with minerals and snake venom, I thought wow! Soon after, I was traveling on an overnight coach to Scotland. It was freezing and we kept breaking down, but I didn’t care because I was engrossed in Kent’s Lectures on Philosophy. For me, that was it. I felt like I’d come home and that I was reading the rest of my life, my future. If you become a homeopath, you’re going to do great work for a lot of people. It’s one of the best things you can do. So do it. And do it at The Contemporary College of Homeopathy.
(first published in New Homeopath, Summer 2022, Society of Homeopaths)