Saturday, August 29, 2009

The "Placebo Effect" -- Not Your Imagination?

The placebo effect has gotten a bad rap. The first line of the Wikipedia entry for placebo states that "[a] placebo is a sham medical intervention." The negative reputation of the placebo effect is based, in lay terms, on that idea that because something is "all in your head," it is a bad thing -- regardless of whether its effect is actually positive. A cynic might say that is because it is hard to bottle and sell the placebo effect.

However, more and more investigation of the placebo effect shows that placebos can have very powerful effects in healing. A recent article online at provides a useful history of the placebo effect and its impact on modern medicine. In fact, according to this article, the placebo effect seems to be getting stronger in pharmaceutical trials, which has resulted in more medications failing trials because they are not sufficiently outperforming placebos. Research is being conducted now to explore ways in which the placebo effect can be used therapeutically in the treatment of patients.

But for those interested in energy medicine, the power of the brain to help heal the body is nothing new. The idea that the mind and the body can harness energy to heal and to stay well has long been accepted by practitioners and patients who treat or are treated using energy medicine techniques. The basis of energy medicine is described by Donna Eden on page 1 of her book Energy Medicine: "The first practitioner of energy medicine is you, the one who inhabits the body being cared for. Using the principles of energy medicine, you can optimize your body's natural capabilities to heal itself and to stay healthy."

I am interested in energy medicine generally and I also am a certified Level I & II Reiki practitioner, so it is no surprise that I am a believer in these powerful healing modalities. I have described to many friends the first time that I did Reiki on Henry. Rather than give a "full treatment," I asked Henry where he thought my hands should go. He indicated that the he wanted one hand at the top of his back and one at the base of his spine, which is the area I had wanted to treat. When I placed my hands and began treating him, I felt a strong energy flowing up and down his spine. I did not say anything to Henry though. When I finished, he turned over and immediately said, "Wow, that was like lightening going up and down my back!" Pretty powerful stuff!

Similarly, the mainstream medical establishment is beginning to learn that placebos are powerful healing tools are well.

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