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Complementary Therapies Picture

The Placebo Effect

WHAT IS THE PLACEBO EFFECT

A placebo is an inert substance or 'fake' surgery or therapy used as a control in a experiment or given to a patient for its possible or probable beneficial effect.

35% to 45% of all current prescriptions are for substances that are incapable of having an effect on the condition for which they are prescribed. Bok (1974)

Why an inert substance, a so-called 'sugar pill' or fake surgery or therapy would be effective is not completely known.

BELIEFS OF WHY PLACEBO ARE EFFECTIVE

PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORY
Many people believe that the placebo effect is psychological due to either a real effect caused by belief or to a subjective delusion.
If I believe the pill will help, it will help, or my physical condition does not change but I
feel like it has.

NATURE - TAKING ITS COURSE THEORY
Some people believe that at least part of the placebo effect is due to an illness or injury taking its natural course, the body is healing itself. Thus the placebo effect is mistakenly thought to be effective, when in fact, the body is healing itself.

SOCIAL THEORY
Another theory is that a process of treatment involves showing attention, care, affection, enthusiasm etc to the patient may itself trigger physical changes in the body which promote healing through the release of chemicals such as endorphin.

HOW EFFECTIVE ARE PLACEBO EFFECTS?

There have been a great deal of studies developed to try to answer this question. The following are various studies that have been carried out.

After reviewing 15 studies, Beecher (1959) concluded that placebo medication successfully reduced pain in approximately 35% of the patients studied.

Evens (1974) reviewed 13 studies and concluded that on average 36% of the patients achieved relief from pain after ingesting a placebo.

A negative view of the placebo phenomena has at its basis the mistaken belief that placebo effects are 'unreal'. The assumption is that if a patient improves simply by 'wanting to' or by following a psychological suggestion, this is evidence that he or she was not ill in the first place.

WHAT FACTORS EFFECT THEIR EFFICIENCY?

The effectiveness of the placebo depends on the confidence of the patient in the medications powers of suggestion, the empathy and charismatic personality of the healer and the doctor patient relationship.
"Anxious people are more suggestible and accordingly more responsive to the far-from-inert 'placebo' power of the doctor-patient relationship." Winefield and Peay (1980 pp57)

 

THE PLACEBO EFFECT AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE

The placebo effect can be seen as an essential element of any approach to therapy which claim to be holistic. Many of the most positive and valuable aspects of the therapeutic encounter contribute to the placebo effect. The rapport between the patient and practitoner, the belief of the patient, the enthusiasm of the doctor, although of great importance are all in a sense incidental to the specific action of a drug, needle or homeopathic remedy. The placebo can thus be seen as a simple form of psychotherapy.