The March 2018 issue of Reader’s Digest contains an interesting and informative piece about the role of the placebo in healing.
Formerly dismissed as unworthy of scientific study or attention, the placebo effect has been getting some respectable attention from medical and other scientific researchers in recent years. The article entitled “The Healing Power of You” also talked about the role of belief in healing one’s self.
A placebo is defined as “any substance or treatment with no active therapeutic effect. It may be given to a person in order to deceive him into thinking it is an active treatment.”
In a typical medical research to determine the efficacy of a new drug or pill, two sets of subjects with similar health conditions are given two different pills or substances. To one group is given the experimental drug and to the other a capsule containing a harmless substance, like water.
The researchers then observe any differences in the reactions of the two groups. If the drug is no more than 40-percent effective, it is considered a placebo and is discarded.
According to a medical website, “A placebo could be a pill, a shot in the arm or some other type of false treatment. What all placebos have in common is that they do not contain an active substance meant to affect health.”
Because placebos are believed to work only on condition of expectation of positive relief, they were considered to be good only for psychosomatic ailments and not real physical ailments.
But this does not seem to be borne out by recent studies, nor by years of experience of many people around the world. Placebos have been shown to result in the real cure of physical ailments such as a broken heel or torn ligament, not only psychological ones.
In my Inner Mind Development seminar, I teach participants a technique to heal themselves using only mental imagery or visualization. By imagining the ailment to be a physical object, they are asked to transform it into a new and perfect one.
The patient usually comes out of the exercise completely cured. We have had cases of lupus, myoma, sinusitis, back pain, migraine, kidney stones, and even a torn knee ligament cured completely using only the imagination.
In placebo studies, the subjects are not told which pill contains the real medicine or new drug and which contains only a harmless substance, so as not to precondition their minds.
But according to the Reader’s Digest article, “Placebos can work even when the person taking them knows they are placebos.” This was reported in a 2010 paper published by Ted Kaptchuk, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and his team.
“After 21 days of taking a placebo, people with irritable bowel syndrome felt markedly better when compared with people who received nothing, even though those who reported feeling relief were told that they were receiving a placebo.”
But these patients, according to the article, “were told the placebo pills had been shown, in rigorous clinical testing, to induce meaningful self-healing.”
This is not really new. Emile Coue, a 19th-century French pharmacist, psychologist and healer, discovered that if he gave a positive comment about a drug, it was more effective than if he had kept quiet about it.
He developed a method he called “Suggestology” to heal all kinds of ailments. He was considered a “quack doctor” by the medical community in Paris, until they realized Coue’s unorthodox method really worked.
It is a strong belief or an expectation of cure that drives people to places or objects considered to be miraculous, such as Lourdes, France, or the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, or Mt. Banahaw in Dolores, Quezon.
The placebo effect may not be a respectable word in medical research, but it shows the power of the human mind or belief system, to effect real physical healing.