The work of Mary Barr, a trained homeopath for more than fourteen years, is to feature prominently in a BBC television documentary on Monday night.
‘Get Well NI’ tracks the progress of a pioneering health study in Belfast and Derry, which examined the effectiveness of holisitic therapies as a complement to conventional medicines. Six patients suffering from long-term health problems ranging from depression and anxiety to immobility, back pain and cancer, were referred to practictioners of holistic therapies including acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic, reflexology, homeopathy and aromatherapy.
As part of the year-long pilot project, Mary worked with Derry woman Frances Gillen, a separated mother of five who had been addicted to a cocktail of prescriptions for nearly twenty years and had rarely left her Shantallow home in the last three. Her problems started when she narrowly escaped being shot just outside her house during the Troubles. The subsequent trauma soon led to depression and, over the years, a range of health problems including chronic pain, swelling and stomach disorders.
Frances had six treatment sessions with Mary, at three week intervals. She says that, from the end of the very first session, she could feel a difference. By the end of the third session, the change was profound. “But I just thought, knowing me, it’ll all come back again.”
Nonetheless, Frances continued to improve. After six sessions, Frances had recovered completely. She was able to stop taking her prescription medications and, several months later, remains prescription-free.
Dr Anne McCloskey, Frances’s GP since she first fell ill, was struck by the change in her patient. “Frances is well, she’s happy, she doesn’t need medication. I think when you look at what a difference that makes in her life, you can’t put a price on it.”
Although sceptics might be surprised by the dramatic results achieved over such a short period, Mary fully expected a good outcome. Her first experience of the power of homeopathy, eighteen years go, was even more extraordinary.
“One of my children got quite sick when he was very young, with a recurring condition. We had taken him through all the conventional routes butt wasn’t helping. So, I took him to 1 of only 3 homeopaths in Ireland at the time and he recovered very quickly, almost immediately. The illness has never re-occurred since.
Mary decided soon after to train in the discipline. “I’d never seen anything like the way the homeopathy affected him. It was so interesting, you know, when you find something in your life and it fires your imagination.”
She travelled up and down to Galway, over six years, studying on a part-time basis.
It might have been expected that Mary would have her work cut out convincing people to try this therapy, which was relatively unknown in Ireland at the time.
But she says that wasn’t the case. “Lack of knowledge is the biggest thing, but there was always an openness there - a ‘well, we’ll give it a go’approach.”
Once Mary started her own practice, she found that clients came her way. “Word of mouth spread very quickly. People had no idea what they were coming to, but they came because friends had told them it worked. The whole thing is you’re treating the whole person, not just a specific problem, and people respond very well to that.”
Over the years, she’s found that homeopathy is particularly effective for a range of problems, including menstrual, menopausal, sinus, migraine, all forms of IBS, behavioural problems in children and when people suffer from re-occurring infections and skin disorders.
She explains how it works. “The basic principle of homeopathy is that you take a substance that will produce the same symptoms in a healthy person and it will cure the condition, because the body will be stimulated to heal itself. The therapy uses all natural ingredients, taken from the environment around us. People don’t have to take tablets for the rest of their lives and their are no side effects.”
Mary believes that holistic therapies work best as a complement to conventional medicine. “For a while there, conventional medicine was the only thing. But it doesn’t have all the answers. No one thing does. So I think people began to look around for other things. And therapies such as homeopathy complement very effectively what conventional medicine can do.”
‘Get Well NI’ will be broadcast on BB1 on Monday next (May 5) at 9pm. Mary can be contacted on 936 3769.