The Placebo Effect in Medicine and Psychology.
The often overlooked placebo effect represents the pinnacle in healing; getting better without medicine simply because I think I will.
The placebo effect makes eminent sense. For even if a patient knows s/he is being given a placebo, improvement may occur. After all, treatment has been administered, care given, and help dispensed.
Indeed, some studies show that taking a higher number of placebo pills increases beneficial effect, that placebo capsules create more benefit than pills, and placebo injections create more benefit than capsules.
If the caregiver expresses care, creates rapport, offers empathy — and especially if s/he expects the placebo to be successful — placebos work more effectively.
The placebo effect gets overlooked because doctors include placebos mainly to apply objectivity in studies designed to test experimental medicines. The focus is on the efficacy of the trial medicine and not on the efficacy of the placebo effect.
It goes without saying that if a certain percentage of trial subjects taking placebos get somewhat better, or even equally better, than others taking medicine, and also fare better than subjects taking no medicine at all, the placebo effect is real.
Even so, the medical community spends almost no time studying how it works. It’s just a given that in some cases, placebos have some benefit.
Dr. Bernie Siegel — the Yale surgeon who is credited with documenting and legitimizing the effects of a patient’s belief system on her/his prognosis — tells a story in which a chemotherapy client came in one day for his routine radiation dose. The man took his place in the chemotherapy room. The nurse turned on the machine. The man went home and experienced the normal side effects; redness on his skin, fatigue, nausea.
The next day he was surprised to get a call telling him he had to come in again. The machine had malfunctioned. No radiation had been dispensed.
Yet, because the nurse believed the machine had, in fact, worked normally, and the man did as well, he experienced the anticipated bodily responses.
I can’t help but wonder if he needed to return for that month’s dose. Perhaps, the targeted cancer cells were dying as a result of the imagined radiation.
How does the placebo effect work in psychotherapy?
Though I’m sure there are other yet to be discovered effects — in two principal ways.
Study after study after study demonstrates a warm and secure bond stands as the main determinant for positive therapeutic progress. If I have faith in my therapist, trust s/he understands me and knows what s/he’s doing, and I believe I will make progress under her/his care, I will likely get better.
Exactly the same phenomenon holds true with psychotropic medication. The main factor which influences successful medication outcome is believing the medication will work. Having faith in the expertise of the prescribing doctor proves helpful, as well.
All roads lead to Rome.
Conclusion: Engaging in a regimen I have faith in under the care of a caregiver who I believe in can trigger fundamental healing mechanisms and empower desired progress.
Why not use the placebo effect to full advantage? Be sure to choose medical and therapeutic providers you trust and have faith in.
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