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Personalizing the Puzzling and Phenomenal Placebo Effect

By Chuck Gallozzi

We all know what the placebo effect is ("placebo" is derived from Latin, "plase", which means, "I shall please."). The placebo effect is self-healing. But it is not done consciously. Rather, it takes place subconsciously. For example, Tom has a physical problem, sees a doctor and receives a pill, treatment, or surgery, and he recovers. However, the recovery was not brought about by the treatment, but by Tom's subconscious. The cure is triggered by belief. As long as we believe it will work, it does. This phenomenon is identical to that of a patient in a remote African village that sees a witch doctor. The differences are just window dressing. Here, the treatments often take place in temples called hospitals. No matter how elaborate the healing ritual is, it's the subconscious of the patient that determines whether the treatment will work.

Our body's ability to heal itself is phenomenal, but what is puzzling is how scientists use the placebo effect. They merely use it as a measure to test the efficacy of drugs. Why are they studying how to 'cure' people with toxics and invasive procedures when they should be studying how to harness the power of belief and make it accessible to all? Cynics may say it is because there is no money to be made in teaching everyone how to heal themselves. But I wouldn't be so harsh on the medical community. After all, what do doctors do when they get sick? They don't heal themselves, but see other doctors. That's because they have been brainwashed like the rest of us into believing that we cannot heal ourselves.

Yet, if we care to, we can learn how to tap into and apply the amazing power of self-healing. Where and how do we begin? We first need to undo the brainwashing, propaganda, and pharmaceutical sales pitches we have been subjected to. But before we can begin, we have to be willing to challenge our assumptions and beliefs. You have to be willing to believe the truth rather than what makes you feel comfortable. Whenever researching a new subject, we are tempted to believe what we like and reject the rest. But when we act in such a manner, it is not the research we believe, but ourselves. So, if a new subject raises doubts in your mind, follow the example of Gareth Stubbs and ask yourself, "What will happen if I doubt this doubt?" Remember, if you don't change your beliefs, your life will remain unchanged. Is that what you want?

Assuming you are willing to approach this subject with an open mind, visit your library or bookstore and browse the health and well-being section. Study the works of such authors as Norman Cousins, Bruce Lipton, Frank Kinslow, Bernie S. Siegel, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dywer, and Joseph Mercola. You can find hundreds of articles on belief here. Next, specifically study what is known about the placebo effect. Forward thinking on this subject can hardly be called new.

As far back as 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates (circa 460~377 BC) taught, "The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well." And during the same period, or earlier, ancient Chinese and Indian medicine clearly saw a link between mind and body health. And in modern times, in his 1937 speech to the American College of Physicians, W.R. Houston said, "The great lesson ... of medical history is that the placebo has always been the norm of medical practice."

Just as a phoney pill can physiologically heal a patient because of his or her belief, a fake pill can also have harmful side effects if the patient expects it to. This latter effect is called the nocebo effect.

Thus, beware of negative beliefs, for they can harm or even kill you. For example, Jonathan Parker, Ph.D relates this case.

"A man accidentally locked himself inside a refrigerated box car. Try as he did, he couldn't get out. He recorded his progress by writing on the side of the car. The first entry indicated he was slowly getting colder and colder. He said there was nothing to do but wait. He probably banged on the side of the car and yelled for someone to help him, but there was no one nearby to hear. Finally, he wrote, 'I'm slowing freezing to death. These may be my last words.' They were. The next day the man was found dead there on the floor of the box car. He had died, but not because he froze to death, but because he believed he had. He knew he was in a refrigerated car and knew that it would have subfreezing temperatures--that is, under normal circumstances, but the refrigeration unit was out of order. The temperature in the car was actually 57 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was plenty of air. The man died of his own self-created illusion. This is certainly a dramatic example of how the power of beliefs and thoughts can affect us. Beliefs and thoughts create feelings and expectations of happiness or sadness, success or failure, and based on those perceptions, a person is either spurred toward success and accomplishment or bogged down by accepting failure or mediocrity. Our lives unfold according to how we think."
A leading proponent of the power of the placebo effect is American developmental biologist, Bruce Lipton, who startled the world by announcing that genes and DNA can be manipulated by a person's beliefs. Author of The Biology of Belief -- Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles and Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There from Here, he is a renowned researcher of DNA, stem cells and their behavior, traveling the world lecturing. The message he has to share includes the following:

The above principles make it easier to understand why Dr. Bernie S. Siegel's comment is so true, "Patients who get well when they're not supposed to are not having accidents or miracles or spontaneous remissions. They're having self-induced healing (brought about by positive thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and emotions)."

For patients suffering from knee joint pain and limited movement, knee surgery is commonly practiced. The procedure consists of Arthroscopic lavage (flushing out grit resulting from the gradual, persistent erosion of cartilage surfaces in the joint) and debridement (the surgical smoothing of rough edges and the removal of bony outgrowths). Yet, when a surgeon and his assistant tested the value of the procedure, they were surprised by the results. Here's what they did. They divided patients into three groups. The first group received Arthroscopic lavage, the second, debridement, and the third make-believe surgery. That is, patients in the third group received two incisions and the surgeon pretended to do some work, but did none, other than stitch up the patient. What was the result? All three groups benefited by the same degree. In other words, the surgery was unnecessary.

Collaborating this, the September 11, 2008 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine has an article stating that arthroscopic lavage and debridement of osteoarthritic knee cartilage may have no significant benefit for patients. Interestingly, on the very same day the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper reported on similar findings in Canada. To quote the newspaper, "A landmark Canadian study has found that one of the most common and widely performed knee operations is ineffective and doesn't provide significant benefits for osteoarthritis patients. Researchers found that patients who had arthroscopic knee surgery fared no better and had no long-lasting pain relief compared with those who were treated with a combination of physical and medical therapy."

The power of belief is of great significance because our health, success, and happiness depend on it. Take the case of Russian weight lifter Vasily Alexeyev, for example. Before the mid 70's, it was believed that it was impossible for a human to lift 500 pounds overhead. And the world's strongest weight lifter, Vasily Alexeyev, seemed to prove that point, for although he had lifted 499.9 pounds before, he never could reach the magic 500 pound mark.

For one important competition, his trainers told him to forget about trying to lift 500 pounds for now, for if he repeated his 499.9 pound lift, he would still be the clear winner. Vasily made the lift and won the competition. But he didn't lift 499.9 pounds; he lifted 500.5 pounds, a new world's record. You see, his trainers lied to him about the actual weight, and Vasily believing he was going to repeat what he had already done before, believed it was possible, and was able to pull it off. Once the imaginary limit of 500 pounds was removed, other weight lifters were able to do the same. And Vasily was able to go on to lift 560 pounds.

Once you open your mind and assess the evidence, you will be able to believe in the power of belief. But believing in it and being able to access its power are two different things. How can we personalize the phenomenal placebo effect, owning its power and applying it to our lives?

How to Harness the Power of Belief
  1. To unlock the power behind the placebo effect, wanting to do so is not enough, for you will also need a system, method, or process to follow. That system is here: The Secret of Instant Healing. Another of Frank Kinslow's books, The Secret of Quantum Living is a perfect companion to the Instant Healing book. Although Frank Kinslow's book is all you need to release your power to heal, we are all unique, and some may respond better to a different approach. For that reason, I'm including other methods to consider.
  2. Most of us are plagued with some degree of self-doubt. We doubt our capabilities. Yet, we are bound to occasionally succeed. And when we do, not surprisingly, each success causes us to grow more confident. But did you realize that imaginary successes can boost our confidence too? That's because our subconscious cannot tell the difference between real and imaginary experience.

    Here's an example. Suppose Harry is a sales rep trying to sell advertising to small businesses. The amount of rejection that he has to deal with can be very discouraging. But each sale he makes increases his confidence. During the day, Harry gets one or two sales, far from the five or six he would like to make. So, in the evening he relaxes at home, where no one will disturb him, closes his eyes and imagines getting five or six sales a day. He imagines his presentations growing more powerful, his customers smiling and thanking him for his service, and his sales manager praising him for his consistent, outstanding performance.

    Harry spends about 20~30 minutes a day doing this. His subconscious cannot distinguish between his real and imaginary performance, so as he regularly repeats this exercise, his subconscious eventually believes he is making five or six sales a day. And the role of the subconscious is to make the external world (reality) match its beliefs. So, once the subconscious believes Harry is making five or six sales a day, it will do everything in its power to make that belief a reality.

    In other words, 24 hours a day, Harry's subconscious will be working, planning, scheming, brainstorming, looking for and seizing opportunities to make sure Harry makes five or six sales a day. The working of his subconscious will happen in the background, and Harry will be unaware of its activity. But Harry will find himself spontaneously changing, doing things differently, and growing increasingly successful. This approach to harnessing the power of belief is called visualization or imagery. You probably already know about it. But the question to ask yourself is, if I know about it, how come I'm not using this power now?

  3. Here is a technique that may appeal to those who are left-hemisphere oriented. They are swayed by logic and reason rather than feelings and emotions. It is called The Questioning Method. Proceed as follows:
    a) Write down this question and its answer. What behaviour do I engage in that is preventing me from becoming a great success? (Example answer: procrastination)
    b) Write down this question and its answer. What belief do I likely have that would cause me to act that way? (Example answer: I probably procrastinate because I'm afraid I will fail.) Try several different answers until one resonates with you or feels right to you.
    c) Write down the answers to these questions:
    i. Is my belief an undeniable fact? (Example answer: No, I cannot say with certainty that I will fail.)
    ii. How well does that belief serve me? (Example answer: Not very well.)
    iii. Is there another belief that would serve me better? (Example answer: Yes, it would be better to believe that I will be a great success.)
    iv. What actions would I take if I completely accepted the new belief? (List the steps you would take.)
    v. Take those actions now.
  4. Here's another approach from Tony Robbins... " All personal breakthroughs began with a change in beliefs. So how do we change? The most effective way is to get your brain to associate massive pain to the old belief. You must feel deep in your gut that not only has this belief cost you pain in the past, but it's costing you in the present and, ultimately, can only bring you pain in the future. Then you must associate tremendous pleasure to the idea of adopting a new, empowering belief."
A Short History of Medicine (taken from the Internet)
"Doctor, I have a headache."
2000 B.C. -- "Here, eat this root."
1000 B.C. -- "That root is heathen, say this prayer."
1850 A.D. -- "That prayer is superstition, drink this potion."
1940 A.D. -- "That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill."
1985 A.D. -- "That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic."
2000 A.D. -- "That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root!"
Living a Life of Health
  1. Eat a healthy diet.
  2. Exercise.
  3. Maintain a positive mental attitude.
  4. Practice a stress reduction program (such as, meditation, mindfulness, walking, yoga, tai chi)
  5. Believe in self-healing.
  6. Plan. If you believe it's going to rain, you prepare for it. Similarly, if you believe you are going to heal, plan now on doing what your illness was preventing you from doing. And start doing it as soon as possible.
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Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Canadian writer, Certified NLP Practitioner, Founder and Leader of the Positive Thinkers Group in Toronto, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Chuck is a catalyst for change, dedicated to bringing out the best in others, and he can be found on the web at Personal-Development.com


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