The placebo effect is a proven medical phenomenon and even an adjunct to the actions of conventional treatments, but it is now affecting the development of new drugs, particularly amongst Americans. While placebos are inert substances that produce no medical effect on the body, the “placebo effect” refers to the phenomenon of patients feeling better due to their belief that they have been given a treatment. Many medications appear to work, but their actions may be due mainly or entirely to the placebo effect.
This effect is now affecting the development of new drugs, as placebos are used in comparison trials to gauge the actual effect of a medication. If the reaction to a placebo is similar to a new drug it is difficult to prove the drug is actually doing anything. As reported in Scientific American, Jeffrey Mogil, who directs the pain-genetics lab at McGill University in Montreal said: “Simply being in a US trial and receiving sham treatment now seems to relieve pain almost as effectively as many promising new drugs.”
Interestingly, the placebo effect is increasing worldwide for antidepressants and antipsychotics, but only increasing in America for painkillers. One possible reason for the skewed results in America is that direct-to-consumer advertising for drugs is allowed in that country. Jeffrey Mogil comments that: “Our data suggest that the longer a trial is and the bigger a trial is, the bigger the placebo is going to be. Longer, bigger US trials probably cost more, and the glamour and gloss of their presentation might indirectly enhance patients’ expectations.”
Exactly why the placebo effect works is still unknown, but many studies have shown that practically any treatment can induce healing as long as the patient feels they are being looked after and their problem is being treated. Fundamentally, if you think a treatment is going to work then it will; if you believe you can and will get better, this allows your own mind to do the healing for you.
Adding to the unknowns surrounding the mechanism of placebo action, it has also been reported in trials where participants knew they were receiving a placebo, and has also been found in trials involving animals.
Regardless of why it works, this phenomenon may be a powerful ally in modern medicine, and used as a treatment in its own right. Director of Placebo Research at Harvard Medical School, Professor Ted Kaptchuk states: “If the major component of a drug in any particular condition is its placebo component, we need to develop non-pharmacological interventions as a first-line response.” Placebos may not provide cures, but they can provide relief, and Kaptchuk goes on to say: “A significant body of research has resulted in a shift from thinking of placebos as just ‘dummy’ treatments to recognizing that placebo effects encompass numerous aspects of the health care experience and are central to medicine and patient care.”
If believing that a treatment will work is central to the action of placebos, it’s worth enhancing the effect as much as possible. Emotional blocks such as not believing that you can heal, fear of the future course of a disease, anger towards your body or medical providers, and secondary gains from being sick all need to be cleared in order to strengthen your belief in healing. EFT is great at uncovering these obstacles to healing, and tapping them away. Over 100 papers in peer-reviewed psychology and medical journals show that it is effective for both physical and psychological symptoms.
Making full use of the placebo effect enhances health care. Improving relationships between patients and caregivers, reinforcing patients’ belief in their treatment, and encouraging their self-healing capacities all contribute toward the healing process.