Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The business of blaming the victim

Some of my best book finds have been at a particular type of library sale. When professors (or the bookish well off) die their adult children sometime pack up all the books and give them to a nearby library. A few years ago several libraries within driving distance had sales that consisted entirely of books they had received this way. Many of the books were in wonderful condition and they differed in subject (and even language) from those one found at the usual library sale.

At many of these sales you bought large paper bags when you entered (usually $5.00 each) and you could walk out with as many books as you could pack into them. After you packed all the books you had found into the bags there was almost always room to add a pamphlet or small book. Since those were afterthoughts (or rather, they were "why waste any space in the bag" thoughts) I didn't always look over them very carefully until I got home.

One of those little "extra" pamphlet/books was Heal Thyself: An explanation of the real cause and cure of disease by Edward Bach. This particular copy was printed in England and from the condition of the spine I doubt anyone had ever actually read it. When I checked the copyright page I noticed that although it was first published in 1931 the particular copy I had was printed in 1991. This caught my interest--although there been a lot of changes in medicine in those sixty years there seemed to have been no edits or additions to the original text and quick check on Amazon indicates that it is still in print.

So, who is this Edward Bach and what is his book about?

Edward Bach was a homeopath who didn't believe in the "germ theory" and did believe that illness arose from disharmony between the personality and the Soul [1](50). Bach concocted remedies from flowers on the basis of his psychic and intuitive relationships with plants. Nelsons Homeopathic Pharmacy (the largest manufacturer of homeopathic remedies in the UK) use Bach's "mother tinctures" to produce the Bach flower remedies that they still sell. On January 28 2009 Nelsons announced Nelsons, the UK’s largest manufacturer of natural healthcare products, is proud to have been selected by Duchy Originals to manufacture the new Duchy Herbals range of natural herbal tinctures, which have been launched this month – the key post-Christmas cold and flu season. Duchy Originals is the Price of Wales' organic food company. According to its own website Duchy Originals embodies HRH The Prince of Wales's commitment to what he calls a 'virtuous circle' of providing natural, high-quality organic and premium products, while helping to protect and sustain the countryside and wildlife.

I will leave aside for another day my discussion of the scientifically questionable value of any of these homeopathic "remedies" and instead will focus one of the beliefs of Bach (and of some others within the alternative medicine community) that both makes it impossible to test their products in any scientific manner and which also causes deep and often lasting emotional as well physical harm to many of their clients.

Bach was a victim blamer. If you read his magnum opus it is clear that he believed that the person who was sick was themself responsible for the illness and that no cure could be effected until they first "healed themselves." That means that Bach's claims that his nostrums were effective were unfalsifiable. If the remedy didn't work it was the fault of the patient not the medicine:
Let it be briefly stated that disease, though apparently so cruel, is in itself beneficent and for our good and, if rightly interpreted, it will guide us to our essential faults....Suffering is a corrective to point out a lesson which by other means w have failed to grasp... (8)
We can now see how any type of illness from which we many suffer will guide us to the discover of the the fault which lies behind our affliction. (17)
Thus we see that our conquest of disease will mainly depending on the following...secondly, the knowledge that the basic cause of disease is due to disharmony between the personality and the Soul; thirdly, our willinghness and ability to discover the fault which is causing such a conflict. (50)
Victim blaming is at the very heart of Bach's theories about illness. Indeed, without such victim blaming his theories would collapse under the weight of the scientific evidence against them. So, those who depend on such remedies instead of conventional medicine suffer great emotional distress even if their physical problems are quite minor.

[1]Bach, Edward. Heal Thyself: An Explanation of the Real Cause and Cure of Disease. Saffron Walden: C.W. Daniel, 1931.


  1. I can say that the flower remedies did nothing for my bronchitis as a kid. Nor the did the homeopathic sugar pills. The chiropractic didn't help either. They tried prayer too. After eleven months, my mother caved and tried antibiotics.

    Have you heard of the book "You Can Heal Your Life" by Louise L. Hay? It's the same kinda thing, just longer, and uses affirmations instead of flowers. I read it as a bored teenager who would read anything available and my mother's shelves were full of books like that.

    I did some googling and found a site where someone copied out the list of the causes of all the diseases listed in that book.

    Deafness: Rejection, stubbornness, isolation. What don't you want to hear? "Don't bother me."

    Migraine Headaches: Dislike of being driven. Resisting the flow of life. Sexual fears.

    Cerebral Palsy: A need to unite the family in an action of love.

    Fungus: Stagnating beliefs. Refusing to release the past. Letting the past rule today.

    The idea is you look up the conditions you have and then you formulate affirmations based on those conditions. So, it looks like when my cat had the fungus infection on her ear, I went about it all wrong. I took her to the vet and got an antifungal cream of her, but I should've had a talk with her instead about how it's okay to let go of kittenhood and there are plenty of toy mouseys in the present and future to play with.

    Or something.

  2. One of our cats apparently had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She was a worrier. If we moved the furniture she wondered why. If we changed our routine she wondered why. And she had a series of routines that were immutable. Her food dish had to be place "just there" and it had to be aligned perfectly.

    At one point, probably because her routines had been disrupted in some way, she simply stopped eating. We could do nothing. The vet gave her a cat size dose of a medication for OCD and she was a much happier cat.

    Talk therapy doesn't work well for cats (for OCD it doesn't work well for people either.)

  3. My Father-in-Law practices a similar kind of "all physical ailments are caused by inner conflicts" medicine. It had some very bad health outcomes for him when the pain in his foot finally became incapacitating enough that he was hospitalized and treated for diabetes. On top of the damage he'd done to his body, the pain of the procedures he had to go through, and the loss of a toe, he also had to deal with the fact that either this was all his fault, or that the beliefs he'd based his life around were false. The hospital diagnosed prescribed antidepressants, but he of course refused treatment, preferring to use his own methods. We're just lucky that he's been willing to continue to take his insulin "while" he "cures" his diabetes using meditation and crystals.


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