The term “allopathy” is used by some alternative medical practitioners to describe people who practice conventional or “Western” medicine. Because this word was essentially developed as an epithet to insult traditional medical practitioners, it is rare to see regular doctors calling themselves allopaths. Some doctors also reject the use of the term because they feel it is not longer an adequate characterization of the practice of medicine.
Samuel Hahemann, the founder of homeopathy, coined the term “allopathy.” It is derived from Greek roots, and roughly translates as “opposite suffering.” He used the word to describe the often harsh and sometimes pointless treatments employed by conventional medical practitioners in the 19th century. Many practitioners relied on a theory of “humors” which dated back to the Ancient Greeks, and they believed that medical conditions were characterized by an excess or deficit of a particular humor. Bloodletting, cupping, and a variety of other techniques were used to restore the balance of humors, and Hahemann believed that these practices were barbaric.
Hahemann also wanted to clearly distinguish homeopathy from the more traditional practice of medicine. He argued that allopathy involved treating the symptoms of the disease, rather than the underlying cause of the condition. The goal of allopathic treatment was to produce effects which would counter the symptoms, but not necessarily to get to the root of the problem. Homeopathy, on the other hand, was treatment tailored to the individual patient, with a focus on the whole body, rather than abstract symptoms.
While the practice of conventional medicine might have once deserved the label of allopathy, many physicians believe that this is not the case anymore. Osteopathic doctors, for example, practice a whole-body approach to medicine, and their credentials are almost identical to those of regular medical doctors. Many doctors also recognize the importance of looking at the whole body when assessing patient health and needs, and modern medical treatment is focused on general wellness, not just a reactive response to symptoms of disease.
The pejorative implications of this term are sometimes lost on the people who use it. Some alternative practitioners refer to allopathy in scathing tones when talking with clients, to emphasize the value of the treatments they offer. Other practitioners of alternative medicine avoid the term, however, recognizing that there are many approaches to medicine, and some even work hand in hand with conventional practitioners. A chiropractor, for example, might work with a spine specialist to treat and prevent back injuries.