SPOTLIGHT ON HYPNOSIS: THE PLACEBO EFFECT - AN AMAZING REALITY
by Jimmy Eldred Quast
It is widely believed that the placebo effect is simply the result of random chance, or that it is a temporary effect of symptom reduction that only happens to gullible or weak-minded subjects. These ideas could not be more wrong. Not only is the placebo effect real and effective, it is incredibly effective. In fact it is often just as effective, or even more effective, than so-called real medicine. In truth it is nothing less than the power of the mind to manifest change.
If you have doubts about this, you probably need only look at an unusual surgical study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in July of 2002. It was a double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled clinical trial that was simultaneously carried out at several very prestigious hospitals. Basically, 180 individuals with arthritis who needed knee surgery were randomly divided into two groups. Half of them received arthroscopy knee surgery, and the other half received fake knee surgery. Arthroscopic surgery requires only 3 tiny incisions through the skin which can literally be covered by band-aids once the surgery is finished. Both groups were prepped for surgery in the usual way, but the placebo surgeries only received three small cuts in the skin of their knee while the real surgeries got the full invasive treatment. General anesthesia was given in the real surgeries while the sham surgeries received a drug that just made them sleep. If you are a regular reader of my column, you must already know what is coming next ------- That’s right, the placebo surgery turned out to be just as effective as real surgery.
Obviously, the patients who were successfully healed by fake surgery were in fact healed by the power of their own minds, the power of belief. In this study, the belief that one had received a healing procedure was just as effective as the procedure itself. However, because the placebo response has no value to most researchers, this means the real surgeries were also valueless. In fact the New England Journal called this particular type of knee surgery a waste of 3 billion dollars per year, which is approximately the total spent each year for this surgery. In response to this negative view, Dr. Joseph Mercola, a physician and surgeon who strongly supports alternative medicine, said “Well folks, let me tell you, placebos are a lot cheaper than $5000 operations.”
One thing that makes it very difficult for the practice of medicine to engage this marvelous information is that the use of placebos is a deception. It is not ethical to offer treatment for a patient’s problem and then secretly slip him or her a sugar pill instead.
Let’s look at another example of the power of the mind to heal. In a Canadian study, published in Science Magazine in August 2001, patients with Parkinson’s disease were given either the drug apomorphine or a placebo. People with Parkinson’s are unable to produce sufficient amounts of dopamine, an essential brain chemical, and apomorphine helps them to increase dopamine production. However when these patients were unknowingly taking a placebo instead of apomorphine, their bodies increased the production of dopamine to a similar degree as those who took the “real” drug.
A few years ago an impeccable analysis was performed by reviewers of the original FDA clinical data that were used as the basis for introducing most of the popular antidepressants we still use today. These included Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Serzone, and Celexa. This study first appeared in “Red Flags Weekly” in July of 2002, and a few days later in “Prevention and Treatment.” This analysis showed that none of these drugs were more than slightly better than the placebo used in the original trials. Much comment followed this analysis in regard to what the motivating factors really are when it comes to the regulatory functions of the FDA, but that is a topic I will leave to people who are better suited to pursue it. I am more intrigued by the comments of other experts who have suggested that the harmful side effects of antidepressants would more than raise the placebo to a preferred status. Now you might logically be assuming that, if all these antidepressants are barely more effective than the placebo in their trials, this must mean these drugs don’t work. Well, you would be wrong. Once again, it is important to understand that the placebo effect is very real and its effectiveness can reach as high as 35% in some trials. A real drug that is 35% effective is certainly very useful. However, even if the placebo is just as effective and safer, the problem remains that your doctor cannot administer placebos to his or her patients due to the inherent deception involved.
Well, if I still have your attention at this point, you are bound to know that I am about ready to get down to the nitty gritty of my own favorite subject, namely hypnotherapy. I just love the fact that medical science has done such a good job of proving how effective our minds can be at healing our bodies. The mind can often do as good a job and certainly do it more safely than many drugs and even some surgeries. It seems obvious to me that much of what the practice of medicine does achieve is in large part really being achieved by the incredible power of belief and expectation. I believe this includes the expectation of both the patient and the doctor. Personally, I have little doubt that this same power is behind the results we can attain with acupuncture, reiki, psychotherapy, EFT techniques, neurolinguistic programming, just keep going and going, and at last we come to hypnosis. Saving hypnosis for last, I am now ready to make my point which, in my opinion, resolves the dilemma of how the placebo response can be used ethically in a clinical setting.
The answer is to simply stop calling it the placebo response. A placebo is only an inert innocuous substance used as a control in experiments. Now that we are starting to have a different perspective on the matter, let’s be more honest and call it what it is -- the real power of belief and expectation. Hypnotherapy has been utilizing this power ethically for more than 150 years. Modern science has greatly empowered the practice of hypnosis and elevated it to a status far above the uninformed ridicule it once had to bear. It is now a respected profession which ethically uses the creative power of expectation. The placebo will probably always be regarded as no more than a sham that fools the recipient into thinking they are being helped. With hypnosis, we do not deceive. We come straight out and tell you that your mind contains the power to resolve your problems. We have countless hypnotic techniques to help you tap that power. All you really have to do is have a bit of expectation and some faith that something, both positive and powerful, resides deep within you.
Note: hypnosis for medical issues may require a physician’s referral.