The Placebo Effect: Why Various Techniques 'Work'
By David Worrell
The following writeup on the "placebo effect" is reproduced verbatim from one of the best books on the subject of shamanism I have encountered: The Spirit of Shamanism, by Roger N. Walsh, M.D., Ph.D.:
The Placebo Effect
The word placebo, from the Latin "I shall please," refers to a powerful but little-understood healing process. The placebo effect has been defined as "a poorly understood process in which psychological factors such as belief and expectation trigger a healing response that can be as powerful as any conventional therapy--be it drugs, surgery or psychotherapy--for a wide range of medical and psychological problems."
Consider, for example, the humble wart. It can be made to disappear by hypnosis, incantations, burying a rag at the crossroads under a full moon--in fact, by almost any treatment provided that the patient believes it will work. Yet no patient, physician, or researcher understands exactly how the mind and body produce this minor miracle. Many people, including some physicians, assume that since the placebo effect relies on something so ethereal as mere belief, it must be a weak effect at best. But consider the following story.
In the 1950's a man dying of advanced cancer learned of an experimental drug called krebiozen, which many people considered a miracle cure for cancer. The man desperately insisted he be given it. After a single dose his huge cancers "melted like snowballs on a hot stove" and he was able to resume normal activities.
Then disaster struck. Studies of krebiozen showed it to be ineffective, and when the man read this his cancer once again began spreading. At this stage his doctor tried an experiment. He announced that there was a new, "improved" krebiozen and the patient would now receive it. Once again the man's tumors shrank. Yet in fact the doctor had given him only water. [Case was reported in a medical journal in 1957]
Clearly then, placebo effects can be extremely powerful, even life-saving. They are also widespread; approximately one-third of people who are treated with completely inactive placebos are likely to show improvement. [according to a book on the placebo effect by T. Huxley published in 1985]
[Incredible. Out of thirty people, as many as TEN might have a powerful experience or actual healing just based on the "placebo effect" alone! That makes for some dedicated followers, no matter WHAT you are doing...]
The placebo effect has probably been a major factor in most therapies through most of human history...
[The other night in traffic I heard this guy on NPR--the author of a book called The Undiscovered Mind--talk about how it has been shown in controlled studies that NONE of the most popular therapies, Freudian, Jungian, Cognitive, etc. are significantly more effective than just going and talking over your problems with a caring friend. To be fair, there are other studies which challenge those studies, but it is a point well-worth considering...]
The range of ills that the placebo effect can help is awesome. Positive responses have been found with coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, cancer, arthritis, ulcers, migraine headaches, allergies, hay fever, acne, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, parkinsonism, pain, radiation sickness, and psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Placebo effects also play a role in many, if not all, therapeutic interactions. Even a powerful and effective drug may gain part of its impact from the patients' and doctors' expectations of cure.
But expectations can also be negative. Therefore, it is not surprising that negative expectations can lead to negative placebo effects, or nocebo effects as they are sometimes called. Consider, for example, the case of cancer patients who thought they were receiving a new form of chemotherapy but were actually given a placebo. One of the common complications of cancer chemotherapy is hair loss, and the patients were expecting this. A full 31 percent of those who received a placebo did in fact lose their hair. Even a physician's casual comments about a patient's condition may have an awesome impact. The nocebo effect is probably also the basis for so-called voodoo sickness--even voodoo death--that can occur when a tribal person knows he has been hexed.
Replica Watches Replica Watches
Certainly expectations and beliefs are key forces in the placebo response. Beliefs can harm, heal, kill, or save, and native healers may be well aware of this...The patient's confidence and beliefs are affected by the entire context in which healing occurs. Thus the personality, status, behavior, and beliefs of the therapist as well as those of the patient all play a role. Skillful healers throughout the ages have probably recognized this and sought to bolster what Jerome Frank calls "the healing power of expectant faith" through whatever means they could. In light of this, the tricks and sleight of hand so widely used by shamans to impress their patients may actually enhance expectant faith and hence the possibility of healing. Clearly the placebo effect has been one of the most powerful forces for healing throughout human history and shamans may have been the first to harness it systematically.
Thus, just based on the placebo effect, we could expect as many as three out of ten to experience "beneficial effects" of Tensegrity and Recapitulation (as I did). We may be able to expect as many as three out of ten to do things like experience the "vibratory force," "meet inorganics," or "encounter the spirit" (as I did). And if people have healing effects or powerful experiences from these practices I suppose that is all well and good. But in the end, I still have to conclude with ... so what?
Back to my question: are we to believe in nothing? Or in everything? Or just in anything we damned well please? Ah, and what of the remaining seven out of ten statistically who don't seem to get the "effects"? Are they better off or worse off than the one's who (some might even say stupidly) "believe" and through believing "get results"? And what are the limits here? If I fervently believe that I can melt steel with my bare hands, can I do it? Somehow, I doubt it. Intuitively, it strikes me that there must be some sort of balance between what one believes and what IS? If not, then it is a weird weird world indeed, perhaps even weirder than the one portrayed by charlatans like Charlie. If I believe that this power comes from Jesus, does it? If I believe it comes from the Sun God Ra, does it? It's intent, it's spirit, it's a built in capacity of the brain and the nervous system, it's the mind, it's the soul, it's the buddha nature, it's maya, it's theta, it's God, it's ... you name it, and someone can say it ... and define its alleged characteristics, and create complex philosophies around it, and have thousands of fervent followers and believers , and ... so what?
One of the main reasons I decided to produce this entire section of the book mentioned above is that it PUZZLES me why the author of the book did not go even FURTHER than he did with this analysis of "the placebo effect" as it relates to shamanism. Why did he not extend the concept into how it might easily account for a great many of the "altered states" that shamans indulge in? For, with this much evidence that we possess within us the power to "make things come true" even on a physical level, then ... how much more so does that become true within the imaging systems of our fertile little brains, especially if you take people who have been formally trained in techniques of meditation, prayer, visualization, or lucid dreaming. Hell, is it any wonder people find "the world" to be just the way they believe it is? Is it any wonder they start having "special experiences" which validate their strong beliefs. NO, NOT AT ALL. To find a bunch of people heavily involved with ANY belief system walking around swearing that it is "real," is this an anomaly? Hell no. It is TO BE EXPECTED, based on what researchers already know about the Placebo Effect.
But see, demanding fellow that I am, I want to know what that "Placebo Effect" is REALLY about. And now that I'm aware of the extent of the phenomena I'm not going to be satisfied with believing in anything until I do know. And, as usual, I should close by saying that I'm especially not going to be satisfied with just believing in the explanations of people already proven to be an unrepentant bunch of damned liars. I will not stoop to using the methods of such self-serving people in order to produce "effects" in myself. Nor will I be making use of this well-known "effect" in myself to help create holodeck representations of their liar's world. Bah.
More on the Placebo Effect