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Burnett’s ladder: towards health a step at a time

Burnett’s ladder: towards health a step at a time

Part of my health mission is to identify relevant insights from the body of Homeopathic knowledge built up over the last 200+ years, and translate it for the now.

And one of these gems is called Burnett’s ladder.

Each Homeopath had a different take on the health system founded by German Physician and Chemist, Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700’s.  And one of the most innovative and intelligent of these is Dr James Compton Burnett.

Who was Burnett?

James Compton Burnett (1840-1901), was a UK medical doctor who converted to Homeopathy in 1872.  He was renowned for his knowledge of anatomy and physiology, so much so at his anatomy examination (where his knowledge was tested in a medical theatrette ‘live’ with a human cadaver), the following was reported:

‘Passing through a brilliant examination in anatomy, lasting one hour and a half, the professor shook hands with him, saying that he had never examined a student with so brilliant and thorough a knowledge of anatomy.’
– Henry Clarke, 1902, The Life and Times of Dr. Burnett.

His contribution was enormous: he was a prolific health writer, he developed protocols and techniques for the various health challenges of his day, and tested and introduced new Homeopathic medicines – all of which are in use today.

His wisdom

Burnett was an innovator.  He was able to draw from different medical traditions and influences, such as the Organotherapy of Rademacher (a system of therapeutics from the late 1700’s which addressed illness in specific organs and body systems), and the Homeopathy of Hahnemann, to create something new.  

Central to his approach was diagnosing and treating health at different levels.  This could be a:

  • toxic insult on the organism which caused a negative change in health. This included iatrogenic causes (side-effects or consequences of a previous medical intervention).
  • previously acquired illness, that although no longer active, has left its mark on the health of an individual
  • problem in a specific organ or body system
  • problem with the individual’s constitution – a combination of our inherited traits and susceptibilities, tempered by our life experiences.

Often our health is influenced by multiple factors; instead of looking for ‘one fix’, Burnett’s approach looks at these different factors, and brings them all together in a tailored treatment plan.

Instant result thinking

We often expect to have that ‘one pill’ or ‘one solution’ to that which ails us.  This can be true for any area of our life, such as:

  • Health or wellness goals
  • Personal development
  • Relationships
  • Occupation or study
  • Finances
  • Lifestyle.

With the fast pace of technological development, it’s not unusual to hold an expectation for overnight success or instant results, achieving our goals in one step.  But life is not always like that!

Burnett’s ladder

Resolving our problems and achieving our goals is more often a journey, a process.  This is especially true for where there are multi-factorial influences in our health or lives, and this is where Burnett’s ladder comes in.

When Burnett was asked ‘which remedy cured the case?’, he wrote the following, from an essay published in his book, 50 reasons to become a Homeopath:

‘Will you get a long ladder and put it up against the side of your house, and mount it so as to get into your house by the top window; and when you have safely performed the feat, write and tell me which rung of that ladder enabled you to do it.’

Burnett’s point is that all the rungs of a ladder are needed to help you get to the top.  They all have a role in getting you there.

He goes on to write:

‘I regard this power of utilising a long series of remedies for the cure of difficult chronic cases as only second in importance to the law of cure itself.’

Health, like many aspects of life, is a journey.  Part of Burnett’s wisdom as a healing practitioner was to acknowledge the importance of the process, and the different tools needed along the way.

If we relate this to contemporary Homeopathy, the first prescription is often just the beginning.

We don’t climb a ladder in one step.  Likewise, our journey to wellness is a step (or ladder rung!) at a time.


David Haubenschild

David is a homeopath from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. He is passionate about helping people change their lives for the better, achieving a level of freedom from disease, and promoting general happiness and wellbeing using natural approaches, that last.

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