Many skeptics have been quick to dismiss the idea of “As a man thinketh, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7) as nothing more than a pop psychology placebo effect, the ongoing findings of medical science are telling a different story. In today’s popular culture of “Thoughts are things,” many people buy into the popular New Age philosophies like the Law of Attraction, featured in best-selling books like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. However, there is actually a lot of science behind “As a man thinketh, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). It is not quite what The Secret is teaching. The difference is important.
Georgianna Donadio shares the truth behind the placebo effect and how we can use it to our advantage.
In an article from the January – February 2013 edition of Harvard Magazine Cara Feinberg profiles the pioneering work of Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital. In the article, Feinberg chronicles the exciting findings made by Dr. Kaptchuck and his team in conducting a “clinical drug trial” charting the effects of prescription medication vs. acupuncture in relieving the pain of the trial participants:
“Two weeks into Ted Kaptchuk’s first randomized clinical drug trial, nearly a third of his 270 subjects complained of awful side effects. All the patients had joined the study hoping to alleviate severe arm pain: carpal tunnel, tendinitis, chronic pain in the elbow, shoulder, wrist.
In one part of the study, half the subjects received pain-reducing pills; the others were offered acupuncture treatments. And in both cases, people began to call in, saying they couldn’t get out of bed. The pills were making them sluggish, the needles caused swelling and redness; some patients’ pain ballooned to nightmarish levels.
“The side effects were simply amazing,” Kaptchuk explains; curiously, they were exactly what patients had been warned their treatment might produce (emphasis added).” Even more startling, “…most of the other patients reported real relief, and those who received acupuncture felt even better than those on the anti-pain pill. These were exceptional findings: no one had ever proven that acupuncture worked better than painkillers.
But Kaptchuk’s study didn’t prove it, either – the pills his team had given patients were actually made of cornstarch; the “acupuncture” needles were retractable shams that never pierced the skin. The study wasn’t aimed at comparing two treatments. It was designed to compare two fakes (emphasis added).”
Although Dr. Kaptchuk doesn’t contend that patients can simply “think themselves better” his study – along with many others conducted on the placebo effect – does prove a very important, and critically under looked, fact in health care: “patients’ perceptions matter, and the ways physicians frame perceptions can have significant effects on their patients’ health.”
If you believe you need medication to heal, then you will. If you believe your body can heal itself or with energy medicine help, then it will. What do you believe about your health?