Belief and Healing: Part 1 5/5 (42)

Female ComboJohn Matzke was told he had only 18 months to live. His oncologist insisted he immediately begin aggressive treatment for the melanoma that had metastasized to his lung.

But John instead took a month off to strengthen his body before the grueling treatment began. He hiked, meditated, exercised and ate organic food. A month later, his lung tumor had completely disappeared on its own.

Though melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers, John never started treatment and thrived another 18 years.

Have you ever heard stories of “spontaneous remission?” You know, someone has a terrible, even life-threatening disease–only to have it disappear for completely unknown reasons?

The scientific and medical communities have struggled for decades to learn the combination needed to allow the body’s natural ability to heal.

Indeed, the mystery of healing—whether from disease, injury, trauma, or myriad other afflictions— has been at or near the heart of mysticism, philosophy, science, religion, and medicine since the beginning of human civilization. And yet, it seems the more we learn about the miracle, the less we understand.

But one thing is certain:

The mind is important, and perhaps even the MOST important factor in healing and recovery.Paths of the Mind

And yet this “mind effect” is most often spoken of in extremely negative terms. Ever heard of the placebo effect?

As you likely know, a placebo is a chemically or physically ineffective treatment, such as a sugar pill, given to patients who believe it works. The patient’s belief itself becomes the healing agent. Interestingly, red sugar pills seem to have a greater effect than blue sugar pills (colors have meanings), and two sugar pills work better than one. In fact, packaging even has a role—with fake name-brand drugs in fancy packaging working better than fake generic brand drugs in generic packaging.

Placebos don’t even have to be pills to be effective. Studies have shown that fake injections are more effective than fake pills and that some phony surgeries are just as effective as their real counterparts. In some studies, sham acupuncture works just as well as real acupuncture. It’s all rooted in the patient’s belief.
Controlled studies of the placebo effect have shown it to improve chest pain, warts, asthma, arthritis, cancer, and side effects of medication.

Clearly, the patient’s belief is strong medicine.

And speaking of medicine, the placebo effect is often the bane of medical care. New drugs must beat the placebo effect in clinical trials, which is becoming increasingly hard to do. Ubiquitous drug advertising and more powerful marketing have ironically increased public belief that a pill, any pill, is the cure for every ill. New drugs in clinical trials often have a difficult time showing any greater effect than the fake pill they must beat.

Acupuncture needle pricking on woman shoulderFor ill or for good, the placebo effect is the manifestation of the first mental process the patient must possess before the healing process can have its full effect: Namely, the patient must believe s/he is receiving effective treatment. Patients will form this belief based on evidence and will seek evidence to support this belief until they find it.

In acupuncture, as in any other branch of medicine, patient’s belief MUST be engaged properly to bring about the maximum belief and healing.

I’ll write more about how this applies to acupuncture in my next blog. But meanwhile, consider these questions, and leave a comment:
  1. Is acupuncture merely an elaborate placebo?
  2. Should we be encouraging patient belief, or trying to remain neutral to minimize the placebo effect?
  3. In what ways does the atmosphere of your office encourage healing?
  4. In what ways do your demeanor and bedside manner encourage healing?
  5. What inadvertent messages, positive and negative, are you giving to your patients? How do those message affect outcomes?
It’s worth considering. Let me know your thoughts, and I’ll finish this topic in a couple of days. 


Click here to – Continue with Part 2

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Dr. Adrian Larsen

Adrian P. Larsen, D.C., F.A.S.A., C.Ac. Dr. Larsen is President of Miridia Technology Inc., and one of the developers of the AcuGraph Digital Meridian Imaging system. He currently divides his time between research, product development, and teaching. Dr. Larsen also holds certifications in Applied Kinesiology and CPK, and has specialized training in SOT and craniopathy. He, his wife, and 7 children reside in Meridian, Idaho.

12 Replies to “Belief and Healing: Part 1

  1. One big problem in acupuncture placebo trials is that there is no more valid “sham” acupuncture than sham massage, no matter how tricky the design of needles that There are more or less effective points but all of the body is connected if not by the main meridians then by the tendino musculo channels. Statistically this reduces the size of the positive effects of acupuncture and overstates the placebo effect, reducing the difference between the two.

  2. Hi so are u dating all healing is placebo? How can this be? How about Ariculartherapy ? How about when ppl say they don’t believe it and it happens. I do cranial sacral therapy also. Not everyone believe it but there is a physicka release that we can feel and affect. R u just saying for acupuncture. How can this b when complicated things like helping someone have a baby and balancing hormones. Thanks. Also can we ask all our Ariculotherapy questions here

  3. Thanks Dr Larsen, this post has raised many important considerations. When people ask me “Don’t you have to believe in Acupuncture for it to work”, I say “No. Ask vet Acupuncturist, they find it very effective on Horses, Dogs, Cats and other animals. You can’t tell me that animals believe in Acupuncture”.
    Don’t get me wrong though I still explain my treatments, from a TCM perspective and in a way my patient can relate to. It is important to me to provide relaxed healing environment which is also about my attitude and demeanor.

  4. Is acupuncture merely an elaborate placebo?

    It is both. The needle itself, like any other artifact that holds the notion of healing, holds healing power in the mind. Then the mind knows what’s best to do and does its best doing the rest. That is the placebo side. (any artifact works; you can give a bit of paper and tell your patient that Jesus Christ touched it etc…

    The non placebo side of acupuncture is the actual energy moving to where the skin is pierced. If the acupuncturist also practises chigung, then the needle is energised. Otherwise, it is inert. Energy can be applied like magnets, seeds, heat etc…

    Should we be encouraging patient belief, or trying to remain neutral to minimize the placebo effect?

    I never get involved to direct a patient in anyway. I let them talk about themselves, about what they would have liked to do, about the things they missed in life etc… sometimes to the point where they cry. That’s the healing taking place. During the time they talk about themselves, they are high in ego, in self estime, in emotions, that’s healing. I do my stuff while they talk. I don’t interfere with their healing, just promote the effects.

    In what ways does the atmosphere of your office encourage healing?
    In what ways do your demeanor and bedside manner encourage healing?
    What inadvertent messages, positive and negative, are you giving to your patients? How do those message affect outcomes?

So, what do you think about it?