Guest post by Dr. Ivan Figueroa Otero | What is a placebo? Let’s first start with what the scientific community defines it as. The origin is from the Latin word placēre, which signifies the giving of pleasure. Today, the word placebo is used as a name of any substance or action that, even if it has no scientific-based therapeutic effect in its use in patients, produces a curative effect. It is this unexplained curative result that science refers to as the placebo effect.
Ironically, mainstream medicine, no matter the effectiveness of the placebo, discards its use in clinical practice, even if it is superior to the drug being tested. Sometimes the effect is harmful to the patient, which is called a Nocebo. Ultimately, the pharmacological industry has shown minimal interest in discovering the scientific reason for the placebo effect, since it cannot be patented and sold.
The Science Behind the Placebo Effect
The following four factors have been shown to influence a placebo effect’s actions. Most of it comes down to belief, belief, belief!
- The previous therapeutic experiences of the patient. What is the standard of practice in the patient’s region? Has he or she been raised in an Eastern-influenced country where acupuncture and herbology are regularly used, or has he/she been exposed to only occidental (Western) modern medicine since birth? In occidental medicine, the more invasive and expensive the procedure, the higher the expectation of effectiveness for the patient. This is often not the case with Eastern medicinal practices.
- The emotional and mental state of the patient. The most mentally stable patients seem to respond better to any form of therapy, whether Eastern or Western.
- Spirituality as an essential part of the patient’s beliefs (the real power behind the throne). Those who recognize God, the Holy Spirt, or other divine forces are often more open to the placebo effect.
- The influence of the therapist-physician. Here, the placebo effect can be potentiated by references from the medical professional’s patients, degree of education, and specialization. Our medical system is biased in the belief that more specialization guarantees a better curative effect. Patients are even affected by the dress of medical practitioners, believing that a therapist is more trustworthy when dressed in a medical uniform, which is also known as the “White Frock Effect.” This effect, together with an open and compassionate relationship between the patient and a therapist that shows genuine interest in helping the patient, is one of the strongest activators of the placebo effect.
Reviewing the previous factors, there seems to be two common denominators in the healing response: the relationship between the patient and a therapist who promotes a trust in the physician and a trust in the capacity of the patient to allow the curative effect. This ultimately results in the physician becoming a facilitator and the patient the promoter of the recovery process of his or her health.
This special relationship activates the FAITH principle.
This mental and trusting relationship between patient and therapist allows the reconnection of the Body-Mind-Spirit of the patient to the real power behind the throne, a principle that will guide the patient to correct the imbalances that led him or her to a disease state.
About the Author
Dr. Ivan Figueroa Otero Is a retired Academic Pediatric Surgeon now practicing Traditional Chinese Style Acupuncture. He is also the author of the trilogy of books about the School of Life. His recent book, Spirituality 103, The Forgiveness Code: Finding the Light in Our Shadows is available on Amazon. He can be reached at http://ifigueroa.allauthor.com/ and [email protected].