Conway: The Consultation in Phytotherapy: The Herbal Practitioner's Approach to the Patient

The Consultation in Phytotherapy: The Herbal Practitioner's Approach to the Patient contains frequent reference to conventional medicine for three main reasons. First, since it is hard for any marginalized system of medicine to define itself in the absence of comparison with the dominant medical model pertaining in the culture in which it arises; second, out of respect for, and with reference to, the advances in theory and practice made by conventional medical practitioners through concepts such as narrative-based and patient centred medicine; and lastly, due to the need to critique the limitations and dysfunctions of the dominant consultation model in order to make the case for alternative perspectives. Research into the various domains of the consultation is considered from a number of fields, including orthodox medicine and the psychological therapies but little will be presented from the world of herbal practice itself, since little is available there. There is simply not enough research on the consultation specifically applied to phytotherapy for me to even attempt to maintain an authoritative third person voice.

Herbal medicine has had a terrible 20th century. An evolving relationship between humans and plants ground to a shuddering halt in the industrial world somewhere around the end of the 19th century. This was astonishing: humans had for millennia been articulating and finessing a primal co-evolution with the plant world and all sentient beings. The insights and benefits for health that had emerged were rich and real. However, while suited to living close to the land, these had become increasingly inadequate to meet the needs of urban life, often involving squalor and pandemic diseases, and when the principles of science and engineering became applicable to medicine the old ways were rudely thrown aside. 

Where herbal medicine did survive in the industrial West it is usually as a caricature of its former self. Modern simplicities dominated. Could peppermint cure my irritable bowel? Will chamomile or valerian help me sleep? Will ginseng make me good in bed or saw palmetto help me stay in it through the night? Will St John’s wort finally make me happy? Herbs became the most banal of nostrums. People resorted to them, uncritically often, as natural recipes to fix things. The fact that time and time again research has shown that such simple hopes are misplaced has sullied the herbal sector: the smart money has stayed away. 

Peter Conway has in this book leapt over the bad years and provided a fully 21st century revival of ancient principles. It is a wonderful thing to behold! Peter has made it his business to sit with, often literally, the most remarkable practitioners and thinkers of our time. He has masterfully processed what they share with us into a sweeping and comprehensive insight into the heart of herbal medicine or phytotherapy. On reading this no longer is it possible to say that herbal medicine is primitive and without rationale. Peter has made it truly a strategy for modern times with the added value of also being true to human history and to ancient principles. 

There are particular highlights. Peter has absorbed and made relevant the latest insights into the placebo effect, the explosive and largely unprocessed impact on medical thought of Ivan Illich’s work 40 years ago, the insights from observing the properties of complex systems, the role of the story or narrative at the heart of medicine, the profound implications on the business of health care of understanding the lived experience of illness, the healing presence in health care, and the interaction between practitioner and patient. His acknowledgement of the work of Bob Duggan in Chapter 3 is personally satisfying, having set up a Master of Science in Herbal Medicine at Bob’s Tai Sophia campus precisely because of the extra dimension to practice they provide there. All this leads to a refreshing and muscular riposte to the more absurd manifestations of fundamentalist science that has so undermined core values across all health care. 

What emerges is also muscular: a convincing argument for the value of herbal medicine in the modern world. These age-old remedies now have a new role, to help us reclaim our relationship with our own health care. While Peter has focused on the role of the practitioner as channel for these benefits, using her or his skills to tailor remedies to the needs of a patient, the value of his insights are that they can feed us all. Each of us has a relationship with nature to develop. Most of us now have a long way to go in this. The particular properties of the plant world as foods and remedies have often been obliterated by industrial processing and by the remoteness of the natural world from our lives. Plants in their primary metabolism provide us with our most effective foods, and in their secondary metabolism with a range of pharmacological constituents that will always be the envy of the pharmaceutical chemist. Moreover these healing agents are often well known in human history, recurring as healing archetypes through all the main cultures around the world. Peter has reclaimed these ancient principles and brought them to life. This book is immensely important for all those interested in expanding their interests in health care to make them more grounded in our nature.
Secretary, European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy,
Former President, College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy 

About the Author
Peter Conway is a practising medical herbalist and has been involved in developing and teaching on several BSc and MSc courses in herbal medicine. He is the President of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy and a Director of the European Herbal and Traditional medicine Practitioners Association. Peter helped draft the National Professional Standards for Herbal Medicine and sat on the Department of Health Steering Group on the Statutory Regulation of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine.

Chapter 1: Phytotherapy in context
Chapter 2: The therapeutic relationship in phytotherapy
Chapter 3: Aims and structure of the consultation
Chapter 4: On profiling and diagnosis: appreciating the patient's predicament
Chapter 5: History-taking: hearing the patient's story
Chapter 6: Physical examination and clinical investigation: other ways of knowing
Chapter 7: Concluding the consultation and providing ongoing care: coherence and continuity
  • A1: Self care
  • A2: Interprofessional communication
  • A3: A note for students

Book Details
  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Churchill Livingstone; 1 edition (September 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0443074925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0443074929
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6 x 0.9 inches
List Price: $64.95

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