Does belief have the power to heal? According to the National Geographic, yes. It does. Otherwise known as “the placebo effect”, scientists are starting to find that the mere belief that a treatment will work can be just as effective in healing our bodies and providing us with relief. While there is still much work to be done in this area, it would appear that our belief something will work—whether or not the treatment itself actually works—is as powerful as any clinical medicine.
How The Placebo Effect Can Heal You
One of the most remarkable examples in the article of how powerful (and effective) the placebo effect can be is this: A man received an experimental surgery intended to help reverse the effects of his early onset Parkinson’s Disease. After the procedure he showed remarkable improvement: his speech was no longer slurred and the shaking stopped. But as it turns out, the surgery was a sham. The doctors put him through all the trappings of a surgery, including drilling divots into his head. But the surgery itself was fake. How could he actually be healed?
The placebo effect is caused by the poignant expectations we create in our brains, which translates into effects on the body, too. As the article says, mere belief in the ability of something to heal activates “the neurochemical mechanisms that connect the mind with the body, belief with experience,” which can result in the the patient feeling better. Even more shocking is the fact that even if a study participant is told they are receiving a placebo, they experience improvement.
From a purely scientific point of view, the article explains that researchers are beginning to find that:
“For some, a strong belief that a treatment will heal an ailment can prompt the brain to tap into its own pharmacy, flooding the nervous system with medicating neurotransmitters and hormones. This is the placebo effect. Its inverse, the nocebo effect, can be activated if a patient anticipates a negative experience; this expectation can cause pain to increase.”
Can You Experience Relief through Belief?
You’ve no doubt heard of various alternative medicine therapies that people swear provide healing and relief from a variety of ailments: aromatherapy, acupuncture, shamanism, etc. Is belief in these treatments, that is, a positive perception of them coupled with an expectation that they will work enough to heal you? The science seems to suggest as much.
Sometimes clients ask me if they should try alternative therapies or activities, either to address a particular physical issue or for overall wellness. My response is almost always yes. While research may not back up the claims of their effectiveness, I believe they are always worth a try.
Before choosing an activity, do a little research to find what has worked for others, because if you believe it will make a difference, it definitely will. If a particular therapy or activity is not in your budget, figure out a way to do it for free. For instance, there are many yoga videos on YouTube for those people who cannot carve out the time for a class or cannot afford one. The same goes for reflexology, face massage, meditation and so on.
I have been a massage therapist for over 12 years and one of the most amazing things I have learned is that the mind can have a powerful effect on the body. Many of my regular clients depend on therapeutic massage as part of their wellness plan and expect it to help keep their bodies and minds healthy. Whether coincidence or not, these same clients have the fewest health issues overall and lead more active, youthful lives.
What are your thoughts on the placebo effect? Let me know in the comments below!