It’s Only Placebo

By Dr. Tim

Here’s an all too typical scenario…Annie visits her doctor who is treating her for fibromyalgia.  She gets up the courage to say, “My fibromyalgia is better.  I believe God is using another approach to heal me.”  Without looking up, he continues writing on her chart, while thinking in his head, “It’s just because she believes it” or, “It’s only the placebo effect.”  She leaves the office feeling a bit depressed and ashamed and she’s not sure why.  These healings are often discounted with a hint of sarcasm and humor.

What our society calls placebo and tends to belittle, Jesus Christ called FAITH and consistently labeled it the most important factor in healing.  In Mark 11:24, Jesus states, “…whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will.”

Some recent studies are beginning to reveal the power of FAITH.  In a 1998 report, Irving Kirsch, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut, states that the effectiveness of Prozac and similar drugs may be attributed almost entirely to the placebo effect.  He analyzed 19 clinical trials of antidepressants and concluded that the expectation of improvement, not adjustments in brain chemistry, accounted for 75 percent of the drugs’ effectiveness.  “The critical factor,” says Kirsch, “is our beliefs about what’s going to happen to us.  You don’t have to rely on drugs to see profound transformation.”  In another article entitled “The Placebo Prescription” by Margart Talbot, New York Times Magazine, Jan. 9, 2000, she states that the doctors in one study successfully eliminated warts by painting them with a brightly colored, inert dye and promising patients the wart would be gone when the color wore off.  She also stated that 52 percent of colitis patients treated with placebo in 11 different trials reported felling better—and 50 percent of the inflamed intestines actually looked better when assessed with a sigmoid scope.

I’ll relay a personal experience that dramatically opened my eyes on this subject.  Three years ago I hurt my neck and shoulder lifting weights.  The pain continued to worsen as the weeks went on even though I was doing everything I knew how to get it to heal.  One morning I was making breakfast and the pain was so intense I said to my wife, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to practice today.”  Then as I was walking down the hall to go into my room for my prayer/mediation time, I remember thinking, “I expect my patients to heal, and I need to expect myself to heal!”  I felt it so strongly it swelled up in my chest.  When I got up from my bed just 10 minutes later the pain was totally gone.  I was stunned.  Something as simple as a sincere decision of my mind to heal, combined with surrendering to God in prayer could be so effective.  Since this episode I’ve reached the level of FAITH I felt at that moment in the hall.  Also since then, I’ve seen the exact same phenomena with several of my patients who have achieved a healing base on FAITH alone.  True FAITH comes from expecting, not hoping.  Too many of us are hoping God gives us a healing, instead of expecting.

Until science views us as a spirit in a body, and not just a body full of chemicals, our society as a whole will continue to “make fun” of placebo instead of viewing it as the most powerful aspect of healing, as Jesus Christ did.