UPDATED: Placebo effect is inherently human – that includes ALL HUMAN BEINGS

Placebo effect is one of my favorite interests. I’ve said again and again, we need to learn how to harness the power of placebo because it is, essentially, nothing other than our own minds power to heal our whole beings. Pharma and many scientists want to dismiss it. Placebo is experienced as a nuisance in research. It’s clear to me the phenomena is part of our human heritage and rather than find it an annoying thing that gets in the way of drug making, we should put more effort into learning how to use it within ourselves without the props!

I suppose when research into placebo without drugs is seriously pursued it tends to get dismissed as “woo.”

Steve Balt has a post on placebo. It’s worth reading. I’ve excerpted a small bit below. I have to preface it by saying that unfortunately Steve’s incredulousness about how placebo works “even” with “schizophrenics” further dehumanizes the population of folks labeled with schizophrenia. Why in the heck wouldn’t placebo work in  people with that label? I was bummed out when I saw him speak that way.

It always stuns me when the very people who are charged to care for people with labels such as schizophrenia fail to see how we are all so very similar. It stuns and it stings.

Schizophrenia as “neurochemistry gone awry,” seems rather quaint to me. Our neurochemistry changes when we smile or laugh. I hope someday people in “medicine” will actually realize that we really are body/mind/spirit (whatever spirit is) and it’s all connected and we’re all much more alike than we are different even when we act or think in ways that the mainstream doesn’t understand.

So with that as caveat I still found the article interesting and worth sharing. I found the finding that placebo effect has gotten stronger in the last twenty years extremely fascinating:

In psychiatry, placebo effects are usually quite robust.  Trials of antidepressants, antianxiety medications, mood stabilizers, and other drugs typically show large placebo response rates.  A new paper by Bruce Kinon and his colleagues in this month’s Current Opinion in Psychiatry, however, reports that placebos are also show some improvement in schizophrenia.  Moreover, placebos seem to have become more effective over the last 20 years!

Now, if there’s any mental illness in which you would not expect to see a placebo response, its schizophrenia.  Other psychiatric disorders, one might argue, involve cognitions, beliefs, expectations, feelings, etc.—all of which could conceivably improve when a patient believes an intervention (yes, even a placebo pill) might make him feel better.  But schizophrenia, by definition, is characterized by a distorted sense of reality, impaired thought processes, an inability to grasp the differences between the external world and the contents of one’s mind, and, frequently, the presence of bizarre sensory phenomena that can only come from the aberrant firing of the schizophrenic’s neurons.  How could these symptoms, which almost surely arise from neurochemistry gone awry, respond to a sugar pill? read the rest

And yes, “schizophrenics” heal much more often than people in mainstream psychiatry would believe when they are treated as equal human beings who are distressed. Here are many recovery stories. And just this morning I also shared the trailer to Daniel Mackler’s film which shows how loving acceptance can heal those who have become so alienated they get labeled schizophrenic.

Post script: I shared this post with my husband before publishing it. He made this comment which I thought was worth sharing:

I agree that he seems to have a very narrowly circumscribed conception (or even no conception) of what it might be like to be schizophrenic (as opposed to observing someone labelled schizophrenic). And reading between the lines, I suspect an element in Balt’s thinking goes something like this:

Non-schizophrenic patients recognize the psychiatrist as the priest and those with sufficient faith believe in the psych-priest’s power over the sacrament (which triggers the placebo effect). The schizophrenic however (Balt assumes) has such radically distorted perceptions that he won’t recognize the psych-priest as such, and thus — the logic goes — would not recognize the sacrament.

Update: Steve Balt responds to this in the comment section of his blog.

UPDATE 2: The discussion continues at Alt-Mentalities including this pretty tidbit that directly addresses what I call “harnessing placebo:”

Instead of eliminating the placebo effect, we could regard it in all conscience as a major therapeutic tool and reinforce it, even foster its appearance… The witch doctors whom I have met have recourse without hesitation to dramatizations which impress the sick.  These ‘sacred tricks’ are an integral part of their therapy.  They appear to mobilize the psychic forces of the patient and release the potential for healing which exists in everyone.  The images, symbols, metaphors, and the explanations used are not important as long as the imagination of the patient is stimulated in a positive direction and sets in motion the physiological reactions which work towards the recovery of health.

(Thierry Janssen) (read the whole post)

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