Part of the "Become Informed" Series, by WHP
Homeopaths consider symptoms as evidence of a body trying to heal, but not quite getting the job done.
Homeopaths consider the body the greatest healer around. It's always dealing with the constant invasion of viruses and bacteria, the bad effects of falling, divorce and other agonies. In most cases, most people deal with life's traumas and keep right on with business - often not knowing there had been a problem.
Then there are those times when even a very healthy person can be simply overwhelmed. Some people have a predisposition to a particular kind of problem (some get poison ivy, some don't), or a person could simply be weak from a previous illness, or recovering from a stress - like being shocked by a bad accident, and so on.
The individuals response to the stress is what we consider symptoms - for instance after an argument one person may weep right there in front of everyone, another may never weep and another might weep when finally alone. While any of these reactions are natural responses to the same stimulus any one of them might be the beginning of bad health. E.g. chronic weeping from "unknown causes", and any number of other symptoms.
Homeopaths talk to the person for an hour or more to obtain symptoms that in effect characterize the persons state of being - not just health, but perhaps a shift in drinking habits - from being a thirsty person to being one who rarely drinks. Once they have taken the case the homeopath then uses these natural symptoms as a guide to selecting a remedy. That is, they work to determine which symptoms represent the case then work to match the person's natural symptom picture with the symptom picture of a remedy.
The actual mechanism of action of a homeopathic medicine is unknown. The remedy seems to spur the body's natural ability to heal - this "reaction" seems to cause the body to work harder to rid the person from the ill effects of a stress.
Another kind of "symptom" is one that predisposes a person to a particular reaction to a stress. This is a topic all by itself - a simplified way of looking at it is to think of it as the remedy your grandfather should have taken - and not having done so you are left to deal with it, or pass it on to your children. A homeopath can go a long way in reducing their effects and even clearing out these predispositions all together so they aren't passed on down to the next generations. Veterinarians see this clearing often following treatment of several generations of animals.