Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Why not practice as a herbalist?

Various people will have noticed that on the whole, i no longer practice as a herbalist.  This is a probably short note on why this has come to pass.

The professional bodies and many professional medical herbalists are very keen to promote the idea that the general public should consult professional herbalists in order to receive personal attention and a treatment plan tailored to their individual needs.  This is an admirable aim, but it cannot often be achieved in practice.

On the whole, inquiries made to herbalists are about whether we stock specific herbal remedies.  Only rarely will people make contact with herbalists with the aim of making appointments for consultations.  People generally hold that their knowledge about their health is sufficient for them to use the remedies we supply to heal themselves.  Many herbalists may disagree with this, as it seems to imply that they have degree-level education in medicine, botany and pharmacology, and are able to achieve enough detachment from their situations to assess their health with some objectivity.

One key word here is education.  A professional's main competitor is their client, who has chosen to avail themselves of the services they provide.  These services are expected to involve higher quality and a greater level of experience than is generally available to the client themselves.  However, this is often illusory and involves the professional talking down the client's confidence in their own self-sufficiency.  It can also involve the presence of artificial barriers preventing access by the client to the goods or services with which the professional provides them.

Clearly there are some areas where this is an adequate assessment.  For instance, i am probably never going to be able to wire a house in the conventional way, let alone build one.  Nevertheless, trade prices presumably allow a builder to do so more cheaply than their clients, which is an artificial barrier.  This is to some extent fair enough, provided we can all erect such artificial barriers due to our different competences.  However, there are many people whose work has very few perks through no fault of their own, and this disadvantages them.

It would be a more ethically acceptable approach to attempt to work with a client to maximise their degree of competence in improving and maintaining their own health.  Rather than undermining their self-belief, it would be healthier to give them the ability to supercede their dependence on you.  This implies education rather than a client-consultant style of relationship.  There are a couple of possible approaches to this, including one-to-one education with a client, classes in the subject of herbalism and the likes of herb walks.  One-to-one education works quite well but is hard to imagine without consultations, which cannot be effectively promoted to the public.  Classes also show little interest and herb walks none.

The conclusion that has to be drawn from this is that the general public do not feel a need for such services.  This is either a misjudgement on their part or our offering such services is a misjudgement on ours.  Adopting the former opinion seems patronising, because their own assessment of the situation is that they do not require our services.  It is also true that a high degree of intuition based on subjective experience can be important to address health problems.

When people get ill, they often become very motivated to find out for themselves what's happening and how to deal with the problem.  As a result, many people have already educated themselves about their condition before they contact a herbalist.  This is a positive thing as they have done what professional ethics requires a herbalist to do - reduce dependence on their profession and give the client control.

Consequently, there is no practical role for a professional herbalist in the form of consultations.  To say that there is involves a low estimation of the competence of the general public.  Therefore, whereas i will continue to offer consultations to the tiny minority of people who want or need them, this cannot be part of the main task of a herbalist.

However, this does also mean that people's general understanding of medical issues is very advanced, and calls into question other healthcare professions.