Evaluating Bach flower remedies: an audit of 100 treatments

A few years ago I carried out a review of the case notes of the first 100 clients treated in my Bach flower practice. This does not claim to be a scientific study, and would certainly not meet the requirements for publication in an academic journal, due to various limitations: it was retrospective rather than prospective, no standard questionnaires or other valid measurements were used, no independent assessment was carried out, and there was only enough information for a short-term follow-up. All the same, when I came across it again last week I thought some of my readers might be interested in a summary.

These 100 clients, a consecutive series, had come to my clinic either through word-of-mouth recommendations or through my website. They included 83 females and 17 males, and ranged in age between 8 and 87 years.

Their presenting complaints were often complex and multiple, but the most frequent main problems were anxiety (37 cases), depression (13 cases), and physical illness (13 cases). Others included adjustment to change or loss, relationship difficulties or long-term psychological imbalances.

Treatment was usually short-term: 39 clients received only one treatment bottle, and 24 had only two. Others chose to continue taking remedies for several months, and there were four clients who came back for 10 or more bottles.

Six clients did not attend for further appointments, but the other 94 provided progress reports after 2-3 weeks, that is after their first treatment bottle had finished. I classified the outcomes at this stage as follows:

Excellent or very good: 33. Clients in this group spontaneously mentioned feeling calmer, lighter, more focused, more in control, balanced, joyful or peaceful soon after starting their remedies. Comments included ‘The flowers are fantastic’, ‘I need another of those magic bottles’ and ‘I think I’m going to keep taking this stuff for the rest of my life’.

Moderately good: 38. These clients reported definite, but more subtle, changes for the better.

Slight improvement: 18. This category includes three clients who did not actually take the remedies but had found the consultation useful for ventilating and reframing their problems.

No change: 3.

Some of those who showed little or no response to their first treatment bottle went on to take further courses and reported a delayed benefit, but the follow-up on this group is too incomplete to be analysed.

Worse: 2. These two clients were unwilling to continue treatment because of marked healing reactions, despite having been advised that such reactions were usually only short-lived and often predicted a good response. Both of them felt ‘spaced out’ after taking their drops, and one reported worsening of her presenting complaint of tightness in the throat. About ten of the others had also reported healing reactions, of a milder degree, but continued with their treatment.

Though the data was not detailed enough to permit a separate study of individual symptoms, I noted that both physical and emotional complaints often improved alongside each other in those clients who responded well.

The results of this modest audit confirms what all Bach Foundation Registered practitioners already know – that the majority of clients find the Bach flowers to be an effective and pleasant treatment. How much of this benefit can be ascribed to the ‘placebo effect’ is impossible to tell from a descriptive study like this.

And finally: a note to say that my short novel Carmen’s Roses, in which the Bach flowers play a small role, is now available in various ebook formats on Smashwords – price just $2.99 USD. Please click here for details.





Bach flower remedies: more than placebo?

When I started using Bach flower remedies about eight years ago, purely out of curiosity, I did not really expect them to work. I held the widespread, but misguided, belief that if the mode of action of a therapy cannot be explained by current scientific knowledge it cannot be more than a placebo. The ‘placebo effect’ is a good thing, because it stimulates the potential for self-healing, but for a treatment to be accepted as valid it has to do better than placebo.

I was so surprised when I observed how well my friends and relatives responded to the remedies that I went on to qualify as a practitioner. After treating my first 100 clients I carried out a simple audit. Follow-up information was available in 94 cases. Two clients had discontinued treatment due to ‘healing reactions‘. Three said there was no change in their presenting complaints. Three did not take the remedies, but said they had improved after expressing and reframing their problems during the interview. All the other 86 clients reported some improvement in their emotional and/or physical symptoms, and in 33 of them the response was judged (by me) to be very good or excellent. Clients in this group spontaneously said that they felt calmer, more balanced, lighter, more joyful, more peaceful or more in control, usually within the first week of treatment.

While this can no way claim to be a thorough objective evaluation, its results are impressive. Other descriptive reports have also shown positive effects. However, these carry little weight among orthodox healthcare professionals compared with randomised clinical trials, of the kind used to test new drug treatments. A recent review of seven studies which had used this method concluded that ‘the most reliable clinical trials do not show any differences between flower remedies and placebos’.

Do these trials provide a fair test of the remedies? With respect to their authors – for I know from my previous career in academic medicine that carrying out a good research study is not easy – I think the answer is no. Many of them used a standard combination of flowers, usually the Rescue Remedy, instead of an individualised mixture chosen for each subject through discussion with a practitioner. Many of them were carried out on healthy populations, such as students preparing for exams, some of whom probably did not need any remedies and were unmotivated to take them. This is reflected in high drop-out rates, which detract from the validity of the results.

I am convinced from my own experience that wider use of Bach flower remedies could help a great many people, and reduce the over-prescription of pharmaceutical drugs, but they will not be accepted in conventional medical settings until there is more formal evidence that they work. Future research designs need to reflect the way the remedies are used in practice. The participants should have actually requested treatment for the condition under study: anxiety disorder or chronic pain, for example. Personalised remedy mixtures should be given, selected on the basis of the interview discussion which forms an important part of this therapy. Giving placebo alone would not be ethical, but the remedies could be compared with an established treatment such as medication or cognitive behaviour therapy. I would be pleased to hear from any colleagues who are interested to discuss setting up such a study.