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Placebo Effect: Power of Positive Expectation in Recovery

Updated on October 16, 2017
ValKaras profile image

Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.

It's not the sickness  -  it's how we go about it
It's not the sickness - it's how we go about it

The Power of Belief

Have you ever wondered why you don't have to see a doctor about a small paper cut on your finger, but had to undertake a complex treatment for something like pneumonia? Well, what would appear obvious, body can "take care" of those small injuries without any help.

But wait. Shouldn't there be a same healing intelligence treating both paper cut and pneumonia? Same immune system at work, same willingness of the body to heal itself - so why would body go selective about what to heal and what to leave to the doctors to patch up?

There seems to be a sabotaging force in our model of functioning that's reducing our self-healing capacity and making one health issue easier to heal than another. Actually, these days we are seeing a growing evidence in both standard and alternative medicines pointing at our level of optimistic expectations about the outcome of an illness as the key to our successful and complete recovery.

When this optimism reaches an intensity of a strong belief, we are talking about something called "placebo effect".

Sugar pills gave a bad name to placebo effect
Sugar pills gave a bad name to placebo effect

From a Laughing Stock to a Healing Tool

The word "placebo" is derived from the Latin verb "placere" meaning to please, and in this form used for meaning "I shall please". It refers to those sugar pills usually given to hypochondriacs who come to the doctor with all kinds of complaints about nonexistent ailments.

So, to please them, doctor prescribes those worthless sugar pills, which then "miraculously" make the imaginary problem easier to handle or disappear. Maybe for that reason "placebo" got a significance of something that is not usually said without a little sneer, like "it's all in the head".

And that's what it is, indeed, all in head - but so are also most of the causes of diseases and conditions, as the new evidence is telling us. Suddenly, that puts placebo effect in an altogether different perspective. Not as a joking matter mocking someone's imaginary illness, but a powerful tool of prevention and healing.

Can't see placebo effect in that toolbox
Can't see placebo effect in that toolbox

Not Your Doctor's Favorite View

The mainstream medical establishment is not really too enthusiastic about placebo's growing popularity, just like they don't like the whole field of mind-body medicine where placebo plays the main character.

As this relatively new (although ancient in the Far East) field of holistic view on health contends, the main culprit behind health problems is poor stress management, with its predominant pessimistic outlook marked by a negative emotionalism and attitude.

Mainstream medicine, married to the Big Pharma is trying to preserve its mechanistic and reductionist view on human nature, making us a sort of biological machines, which, consisting of chemicals can "only" be cured with chemicals and occasional scalpel cutting out bad parts.

The effects of its intervention are reduced to eliminating symptoms while not really addressing the underlying causes, which are in so many cases of mental nature. I don't claim to understand all tenets of the ancient Ayurvedic healing modality, but I just remember their saying: " It's not so significant where the body hurts - but where the life hurts."

When pills call SOS, it must be all in the mind
When pills call SOS, it must be all in the mind

Something So Worth Exploring

This kind of understanding goes so nicely with everything that Dr. Lissa Rankin Md. said in her eye opening book "Mind over Medicine", where placebo effect gets to shine in its deserved significance.

Indeed, all over the world folks have "miraculously" cured themselves of cancers, heart diseases, ulcers, diabetes, got rid of warts, and even regrew their hair - with nothing more than a strong shift in attitude and with a persistent belief in a positive outcome of the disease.

Cancerous tumors the size of an orange disappeared almost overnight leaving the doctors speechless and scratching behind their ears over such outcomes that were defying everything in their textbooks and practice.

Are they really worth our trust?
Are they really worth our trust?

Body Cheated by Mind into Healing

What about prescription drugs, you may ask. According to the statement of dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn Md. in his book "Confessions of a Medical Heretic", a big variety of those medications in a pharmacy are completely useless, if not downright harmful.

After reading his and dr. Lissa Rankin's book I was under a strong impression that each of those bottles should have within the "recommended use" this instruction: "Use also with a daylong positive expectation".

Experimentally, some fake surgeries have been performed with just a little skin incision and with doctors claim that "surgery has been successful" - resulting with normal recovery from the health issue involved, as if the real surgery had been performed. Really, how far can placebo effect go?

Who cares if health comes from "chi" or from mind
Who cares if health comes from "chi" or from mind

Whatever Works

One would wonder about all those alternative healing modalities - are they based on placebo effect? I mean qigong, tai'chi, Emotional Freedom Technique, Matrix Energetics, Brainwave Vibration, and possibly a dozen of others - are they just like those fake surgeries?

A typical skeptic would ask this question with an intention to debunk them as some "New Age mambo Jumbo", but I am saying : So what if they are just a placebo? A Tibetan qigong healer was asked by a western researcher whether there is a claim about his preliminary rituals and chanting to possess a healing power. The old dude smiled and said : "No, they are just to put both healer and the patient into a healing frame of mind."

So, is the healer doing any healing? We don't really know, at least for as long as technology doesn't come up with an instrument that could detect something like "chi-energy". But to deny its existence would be intellectual arrogance considering all healings done.

Personally, I am practicing both qigong exercises and qigong meditation, and I don't care if my good results are coming from my "undone blockages of chi channels" or from the good, old placebo effect. Whatever works, my friends, is good enough for me.

Ambient supports strong beliefs
Ambient supports strong beliefs

A Case of a Healed Bladder Cancer

I recently watched on a You tube video that fine scholar and researcher Gregg Braden in Milan, Italy, presenting a case of a woman with a huge bladder cancer being healed by two qigong healers in a drugless Chinese hospital.

In a video-within-video I saw those two healers chant over that woman, while the ultrasound screen was showing something that was hard to believe. Within less than three minutes of that energetic chanting the cancerous tumor was rapidly shrinking to completely disappear.

What happened there? Did the healers' reputation do it? Maybe the patient's strong belief in the power of the chant? Or was it really a "transference" of chi energy, something similar to the alleged Jesus's healings?

Again, there is no way of being sure, but even if we settle for a placebo effect, which in many minds would be the most logical conclusion - the results are more than impressive.

We can only observe the moves, we can't see what they do
We can only observe the moves, we can't see what they do

The Beauty of Belief

Indeed, does it really matter what modality or medium we use to mobilize the placebo effect? Every day hundreds of Chinese folks join in an open space to practice their routine qigong or tai'chi, each having their own little version of them, each with a solemn expression on face expressing peace as you don't see on the busy streets of New York.

Those folks could be said to believe in something silly, and yet, who are we to deny them their beautiful spiritual world in which they connect with the depths of their inner essence - something that I experience during my own practice. Those movements are like body's meditation, and when we remove the word "placebo effect" from it, it becomes something almost divine.

Sometimes law makers are blinded by choice
Sometimes law makers are blinded by choice

Officially - Beliefs Have No Bearing on Body Health

Ever since it was established for a fact that our mindset with its strong beliefs affects our health, placebo had to get its negative counterpart - nocebo, meaning all that negativism in our beliefs doing a number on our health.

Doctors are perfectly aware of both placebo and nocebo, but their standard procedures and treatments don't give them much weight in the art of diagnostics. As a matter of fact, outside of psychiatry and psychology, doctors are not allowed to treat physical complaints with "advices" for a more sensible set of beliefs, but only with pharmaceuticals, food restrictions, and scalpel.

The law is very specific about it, and you are practicing unlawful medicine if you advertise and perform anything that is not standardized medicine. Placebo and nocebo are under other names and in other contexts reserved for psychotherapy, never for bodily complaints.

It may only take change of glasses to see our bodies healthy
It may only take change of glasses to see our bodies healthy

The Day May Come...

In spite of all efforts of so called progressive medicine to give placebo a crucial significance in the health of immune system and consequently the overall wellbeing - it will take time until the level of public awareness reaches the point of an outcry against the marriage of medicine and Big Pharma, with placebo taking a back seat.

But, the time may eventually come when the whole paradigm of human stupidities collapses and man's spirituality prevails, along with his de-hypnotizing from authorities that keep our image of fragile, delicate, sensitive creatures that "couldn't survive without doctors and their chemicals".

Our beliefs make those prophecies come true, and indeed, we are behaving like a generation of softies who rush to the doctor at a first sneeze. So, maybe we can hope that some day our beliefs will make us resilient, and strong, and sovereign in mind, thinking for ourselves. That will be the day of placebo effect having its triumph, when mind will heal the body - because it can.

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