In response to my blog post†Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself, Mind/Body Medicine expert†Dr. Susan Bernstein wrote a comment that bears highlighting. In a rousing conversation in the comments, we were debating whether doctors should be actively prescribing placebos when patients suffer from conditions for which we have inadequate treatment.
Dr. Bernstein brought up the issue of whether itís actually the placebo pill that demonstrates the healing effect or whether itís the doctor in the white coat doling it out thatís responsible for the profound treatment effect we often see in research studies when people are treated with placebos.
Dr. Bernsteinís Thoughts
Knowing a lot about the placebo effect from my own research as a PhD in Mind/Body Psychology, my thought is that placebos are probably more likely to work when the patient trusts the doctor. That means that the doctor needs to be able to build trust, even knowing that a placebo is being prescribed. Can all doctors keep a straight face when they’re doing that? Or build trust if they know that they believe in the placebo, but they’re not disclosing it’s a placebo? I don’t know. I imagine it depends on the doctor.
In psychology, extensive research has been done to look at the different modalities and methods used to heal clients. For example, looking at art therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or Jungian analysis, what patients really say helps is the relationship. At least from a psychological standpoint, most of our wounds happen in relationship, so we need relationships to heal us.
It used to be that we had plenty of time to talk with our doctors, and with that rapport, we built a level of trust. In a way, a doctor could be a shaman, and help us to heal because we believed in that individual. In that case, I imagine it’s the resonance — the alignment, between doctor and patient — that creates the conditions for healing.
Susanís Healing Journey
Over the past five years, I have experienced a health issue that initially took me to a homeopath, an acupuncturist, and a naturopath, all of whom contributed something, not only to my healing, but to my personal development. I chose these people because they reflected back to me values and approaches that felt right. I am not the type to trust a doctor simply because of his or her credentials. Harvard, Stanford, that’s nice, but it’s not the university that heals. It’s the practitioner and his or her ability to touch something in me that’s ready to hear and take in the guidance, be that pills, surgery, exercise, or some other prescription.
I’m a big believer in the theory that we have everything we need inside of ourselves to thrive (no wonder, on the career front, I call my company “Work from Within“). We may not always know how to tap that inner wisdom, but I think it’s the relationship with the practitioner, even more importantly than the placebo pill, that promotes our inner resources to move us into a state of well-being.
Grumpy Doc Vs. Kind Doc
Let’s put it this way: I bet if we did an experiment and compared an uptight, angry, arrogant doctor who had a so-called “miracle cure,” and a really kind, empathic, caring doctor who had a cure that was likely to work but uncertain, most people would get better with the kind doctor. Now, I could be wrong. Maybe some people actually trust the arrogant doctor more. We’d have to test for preference of personality as part of the experiment, of course.
All that said, I’m in favor of a strong, caring relationship between doctor and patient, one that builds trust. I believe that, in the long-run, that’s a prescription for preventative wellness.