According to homeopathic lore, Hahnemann began developing the homeopathic method after coming upon the idea that "like cures like" while translating a work on malaria. Upon reaching a passage stating that quinine was an effective treatment because it was bitter and astringent, Hahnemann felt this implausible because there were many other substances that were equally bitter yet lacked any therapeutic value. To better understand the effects of quinine, he decided to take it himself and observed that his reactions were similar to the symptoms of the disease it was used to treat.
For Hahnemann and his students the whole of the body and spirit was the focus of therapy, not just the localised disease. Hahnemann himself spent extended periods of time with his patients, asking them questions that dealt not only with their particular symptoms or illness, but also with the details of their daily lives. It is also suggested that the gentle approach of homeopathy was a reaction to the violent forms of heroic medicine common at the time, which included techniques such as bleeding as a matter of course.
Homeopathy was brought to
in 1825 and rapidly gained in popularity, partly due to the fact that the excesses of conventional medicine were especially extreme there, and partly due to the efforts of Constantine Hering. Homeopathy reached its peak of popularity in America in the decades 1865–1885 and thereafter declined due to a combination of the recognition by the establishment of the dangers of large doses of drugs and bleeding and dissent between different schools of homeopathy. America
Nearly as important as Hahnemann himself to the development and popularization of homeopathy was the American physician James Tyler Kent (1849 – 1921). His most important contribution may be his repertory, which is still widely used today.
's approach to homeopathy was decidedly authoritarian, emphasizing the metaphysical and clinical aspects of Hahnemann's teachings, in particular Kent
insistence on the doctrines of miasm and vitalism,
more emphasis on psychological symptoms (as opposed to physical pathology) in prescribing, and
regular use of very high potencies.
In the 1930s the popularity of homeopathy began to wane, especially in Europe and the United States, partly due to advances in biology and conventional medicine, to the Flexner Report (1910) which led (in North America) to the closure of virtually all medical schools teaching alternative medicine, and due to a decline in coherence in the homeopathic community. Homeopathy experienced a renaissance in the 1970s, largely thanks to the efforts of George Vithoulkas in Europe and
North America, that continues to this day. In homeopathy had remained relatively strong throughout the 20th century due to its isolation from the above factors, and at present Indian homeopaths are among the most influential world-wide. Finally, the rise in popularity of homeopathy must also be seen as part of the general rise in interest in alternative medicine over the past few decades. India
The ease with which large databases can be manipulated has brought about profound changes in the way homeopathy is practised. Today many homeopaths use personal computers to sift through hundreds of thousands of pages of provings and case studies. Because the information about lesser-known remedies is more accessible, it is now more common for homeopaths to prescribe them, which in turn has lead to an increase in the number of new provings. Database technology has also encouraged researchers to reorganize and restructure existing information.