Homeopathy 2003; 92(02): 120-122
DOI: 10.1016/s1475-4916-03-00009-2
Book Review
Copyright © The Faculty of Homeopathy 2003

Provings. Volume I: How Understanding Provings Offers an Essential Foundation To Successful Patient Care—With a Proving of Alcoholus

Paul Herscu The New England School of Homeopathy Press, USA, 2002 Price: US$24, ISBN 0-954004-4-1.
Edward Shalts

Subject Editor:
Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
20 December 2017 (online)

The colourful cover of this book carries the heading: ‘Cornerstones of Homeopathy’. The proving, without doubt was the most important stone in the foundations of homeopathy, homeopathy was born with the first proving conducted by Hahnemann. All the principles of homeopathy and daily practice are based on provings. To be more precise, they are based on our understanding, or lack thereof, of the ‘mechanisms and philosophy behind provings’.

Most of us like new information on Materia Medica. At every homeopathic seminar I have attended, the audience asks for more information about the remedies. But most teachers focus on theory. Homeopathy does not exist without a detailed understanding of mechanisms underlying health, illness and cure. Dr. Herscu's book helps the reader to understand these points very clearly. The second part of the book presents a proving of Alcoholus, and its Materia Medica. This proving, or, to be precise, reproving, illustrates the major points of the theoretical first part of the book.

Chapter 1 introduces the basic concepts of Herscu's model of Stress and Strain. This new perspective makes understanding of the process of provings easy. In Chapter 2 ‘Why Provings are Important to You’, Herscu discusses the mechanisms and philosophy behind provings in improving clinical skills including case analysis techniques, the use of the repertory, remedy selection and follow-up. In so doing, Herscu reconnects the proving with clinical experience. Chapter 3 clarifies theoretical and practical aspects of provings from the perspective of the Herscu's model of Cycles and Segments. The thinking is clear and leads the reader to better grasp important issues of provings and clinical practice. This chapter revives the concept of individual predisposition that has been missing in many recent provings and other studies.

Chapter 4 reviews important original texts that have been overlooked or forgotten, highlighting the history of blinding and placebo. Reprinting the Transactions of the 38th Session of the American Institute of Homeopathy (1885) will open the eyes of many homeopaths and conventional physicians to the origin of the placebo-controlled study. The emphasis on the interface between clinical studies and clinical practice in this chapter makes one of the most important contributions of the book. Chapters 5 and 6 illustrate the differences between various ‘fashionable’ methods of provings and the reasoning behind the ‘classical’ approach to the design of provings. Chapter 7 is dedicated to setting the standards of the proving process.

Part 2 is a book in itself. It is dedicated to a detailed proving of Alcoholus. Herscu quotes T.F. Allen's Encyclopedia of Pure Materia Medica: ‘The following symptoms have been collected from various sources, and though incorporated with some hesitation, are believed to be reliable.’ Herscu asks: ‘Can you imagine any other remedy being offered up with this sort of a doubt?’ I have to answer ‘Yes I can’. Many provings have being compiled from unreliable data, or had very few provers participating. I admire Allen for the integrity that led him to place this statement at the beginning of the remedy description. Based on my own experience with the substance in question, such a statement would have never come from the person ‘under the influence’. And aren’t we all under the influence of this powerful substance? The proving of Alcoholus has become a test of the theoretical foundation that Herscu has been building the last 20 years.

Chapters 9–11 are dedicated to these issues, emphasising the importance of reproving this substance and the influence it has on our patients, and on homeopaths. After all, our remedies contain potentized alcohol. Chapter 12 presents a Cycle and Materia Medica of Alcoholus. Herscu provides a clear and logical picture of the remedy. The proving was undertaken with five different groups of provers over 5 years. Remarkably, the same symptoms were generated in different groups of provers. Placebo groups produced no symptoms of any importance. Only 25 provers produced symptoms ‘above threshold’.

The book is not without its flaws. Some of them are the result of low-cost production. I feel that such an important work deserves a better body. The cover designer Amy Rothenberg (Paul's wife and also a homeopath) has captured the Alcoholus state very well, It looks like Russia (my homeland) to me! The editing also could be improved and the book is sometimes too conversational and personal.

I am very impressed by Herscu's ability to go deep into original sources of homeopathy and extract important features, making them available to a large community of students and practitioners. His work has always made us think and frequently reset our approaches to things that we thought we knew and understood. This happened with his first book, The Homeopathic Treatment of Children, (1991). Dr Herscu's work is not a result of theorising; nor is it driven by a histrionic need to become famous, but as a result of his desire for Homeopathy to advance towards becoming a solid science, based on real experimental data. His new book advances our community towards this goal. In these difficult and controversial times in the history of homeopathy (which seem to never end!), this book is refreshing. It brings back the feeling of having a solid foundation that will not yield to temporary clashes of various theories and personalities behind them. The intent of the author is clearly to unite, to strengthen our community by clarifying important points of the theory and practice.

I highly recommend this book to all students and practitioners of homeopathy.