Placebo and the power of mind over body
Recently, Time magazine published an article on the prevalence of the use of placebo prescriptions. While some might read this as a piece about medical fraudulence, I see it as a marker of an important positive shift in the thinking of the western medical community.
Often in the field of alternative medicine and wellness you will hear credence given to the importance of the mind in mending the body. While this is a common concept in the worlds of massage, acupuncture, guided imagery, energy work, etc., it’s something that’s only recently taken hold in western medicine.
Thirty years ago the idea began to surface in conversations around fighting cancer. Organizations like Commonweal formed around the belief that the most effective treatment for cancer had to include informed patients who had positive thinking tools to strive for improved quality of life.
While select fringe areas of medicine began embracing the power of the mind in healing, the majority of the American allopathic industry had a long way to go. As the Times article states;
In 1979, a similar survey of American doctors found that 60% of respondents believed that using placebos was a good way to deduce whether a patient had a “real” problem or was just faking it.
Over the last few decades, however, there has been a noticeable shift. More and more hospitals are instituting programs like California Pacific Medical Center’s Integrative Medicine Program that really emphasize the importance of recognizing the mind, body, and spirit as integral considerations in a treatment plan. Research is coming out that recognizes the value of empathetic support in a patient’s fight against disease.
And whereas in the past doctors saw the placebo effect as a sign of hypochondria, of the doctors in this recent study, “96% believed that dummy pills could have real therapeutic effects.”
This isn’t to say that we have arrived. There are still many in the medical field who are dismissive of things they don’t understand. Just this week, the New York Times published an article questioning the very existence of a very painful and growingly common condition, fibromyalgia.
Thankfully, the Times Magazine article gives me a bit more hope. Quotes like:
“Physicians in this survey believe the mind and the body are inherently interconnected, and that belief can challenge our approach to the healing process in new, innovative ways”
are clear signs of forward movement in the efforts to bring the whole person and all of their strengths and imbalances into consideration when treating patients.
For more information on the placebo effect, a friend recommended Understanding the Placebo Effect in Complimentary Medicine: Theory, Practice and Research, by David Peters. It’s definitely on my To Read list.