Beliefs and the Placebo Effect

In an era of dazzling medical possibilities, where treatments and therapies exceed our wildest imagination, we have been well trained to believe that when something ails us the only answer is to seek medical attention to fix what’s wrong.

Quite obviously, there are times when medical attention is unquestionably what we need — and if in doubt it is always a good idea to seek medical advice. But what about those illnesses and conditions for which our medical system has no good answers, or no answers at all? Or those times when we are receiving medical care, but wonder how we can also participate in our own healing?

The good news is that medical science increasingly and emphatically demonstrates that we do indeed have extraordinary healing powers of our own. And these are harnessed when the mind and the body work together.

To prove this, we have to look no further than the remarkable results of the placebo effect that have been documented repeatedly in clinical research. Why is it that a simple sugar pill, a saline drip or even a fake surgery can create real physiological healing for about one third of the study group in a clinical trial? These people are improving, or recovering completely, even when they receive absolutely no actual treatment.

Here are just a few example of how powerfully the mind influences the body:

• A recent study found that patients undergoing an elaborately created sham knee surgery experienced no more knee pain than those who had the actual surgery. One recipient of the placebo surgery enthused “The surgery was two years ago and the knee has never bothered me since. It’s just like my other knee now!”

• An astonishing 30% of a study group lost ALL their body hair when they thought they were receiving chemotherapy, but in fact were not.

• Even when openly told that the pills they were taking were nothing more than ”placebo pills that have been shown in rigorous clinical testing to produce significant mind-body self-healing processes,” 59% of an Irritable Bowel Syndrome study group still reported improvement.

The common thread here is what people believed would happen when they took the pill, received the “chemotherapy” or had the “surgery.” After that, their body took over, naturally and easily, creating exactly the change they expected — even without any actual medical intervention. And stories abound of people who have used this innate ability to heal themselves from just about every disease known to humankind.

This is the power of the mind-body connection. And when we learn how to access and harness this amazing capacity that resides in all of us, the healing benefits can be quite astounding.

Suggested further reading:
Mind Over Medicine, by Lissa Rankin, MD
Meaning, Medicine and the Placebo Effect, by Daniel Moerman
How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body, by David R. Hamilton
Beliefs: Pathways to Health and Well-Being, by Robert Dilts, Tim Hallbom & Suzi Smith