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Excerpted from Best Evidence by Michael Schmicker. Copyright © 2000 by Michael Schmicker. Excerpted by permission of Michael Schmicker.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Various mental healing procedures are now being used by millions of people in an attempt to utilize the potential of the mind to heal the physical body."

  Michael Schmicker, Best Evidence, Part 3

Documented clinical studies have shown the placebo effect has successfully relieved or cured hay fever, coughing, insomnia and sleep disorders, colds, headaches, diabetes, peptic ulcers, seasickness, and various kinds of pain including angina pectoris; reduced obesity and urinary incontinence; matched the effectiveness of anti-arthritic pills in treating the symptoms of arthritis and the effectiveness of chemical anti-depressants in treating depression; and treated anxiety. Placebos can speed up or slow down a heartbeat rate; alter moods and perceptions, produce observable calm or its opposite, nervousness; and even produce feelings of euphoria.

In 1956, psychiatrist Arthur Shapiro reviewed 100 years worth of medical journals to see what patterns of treatment emerged. He found that medical fads came and went, producing good results for a while before disappearing. Something seemed to work, but what was it? The evidence suggested that the constant "something" might be the placebo effect, and that the history of medicine was basically the history of placebo effects -- the power of the mind to believe.

There is some fascinating evidence to support Shapiro's argument that the effectiveness of many medical treatments is not due to the treatments themselves, but to the placebo effect--if the medical community enthusiastically believes in a treatment, it often works; but if they stop believing, the therapy often stops working. For example, a study conducted by Dr. Herbert Benson and David McCallie, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1979, reviewed the history of over a dozen medical treatments used for angina pectoris. The list included heart muscle extract, pancreatic extract, various hormones, x-irradiation, anticoagulants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, thyroidectomies, radioactive iodine, sympathectomies, various vitamins, choline, meprobate, ligation of the internal mammary artery, epicardial abrasions, and even cobra venom!

The authors noted that most of the therapies tried started off very effective but later were abandoned as ineffective. Indeed, most of these once-successful therapies were later found to have no specific physiological effect on angina. Then what made these scientifically worthless therapies effective in the first place? The placebo effect, concluded Benson and McCallie. Their suggestion to doctors? Don't ridicule or disregard placebos -- they're cheap, safe, and have withstood the test of time. Use them. If Benson and McCallie are correct, the minds of doctors and patients--their beliefs and mental attitudes -- can apparently transform a scientifically worthless therapy into an effective medical treatment. The mind is an active healer.

Indeed, various mental healing procedures are now being used by millions of people in an attempt to utilize the potential of the mind to heal the physical body. They include hypnosis and suggestion, biofeedback, meditation, visualization, emotions management, and old-fashioned prayer, a form of mental healing humans have used for millennia which is attracting fresh attention from scientists.

A placebo relies on a physical intervention to trick the patient into healing himself. Having something physical which the patient can see or touch (a sugar pill, a saline solution injection, or in earlier times perhaps a sacred stone, feather or drink) gives the patient something to focus his mind on. In reality, however, you apparently donít even need a physical placebo to help the mind produce a dramatic physical change in the body. You can produce many of the same effects using nothing but words -- in the form of a suggestion which the patient is willing to accept and believe in.

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