More Than Science: The Benefits of Placebo Redefined
Treating pain continues to be a major concern and focus of study in this country. Doubts creep in: is this treatment “really” working, or is the person merely “thinking” it’s working? A recent study’s conclusion on this issue, while not explicitly stated, can be deduced from their findings. If the person feels less pain: does it really matter? Specifically, if a person feels better after being given a placebo rather than medication with biological factors, is this delusion, or is it, in fact, a new way of looking at the mind and pain?
If the person feels less pain: does it really matter?
Specifically, if a person feels better after being given a placebo rather than medication with biological factors, is this a patient’s “delusion,” or is it, in fact, a new way of looking at the mind and pain?
Placebos in Studies
For those not quite familiar with how science and medical researchers test whether a drug is effective or not, the use of a placebo medicine is most often used to determine the efficacy of the “real” medicine that’s in trial. You may already know what a “placebo” is: a harmless drug administered to those thinking what they’re receiving is the actual drug.
Studies usually use two groups of participants. In one, they administer the “real” drug they are testing. In the other, they use a placebo drug. This helps them in determining whether the “real” drug is effective, or how and in what way it specifically effects in the body, in order to gauge the drug’s medical benefits.
A new study, however, is zoning in on placebos themselves. Can a mere placebo provide benefits to the patient: even though it does not specifically address any biological issues?
The answer is yes. This conclusion isn’t in of itself revelatory to medical researchers. Many have already noted how the power of suggestion effects a patient. While some may find this to be “delusional” on the patient’s part, is it?
Psychologists and medical professionals don’t see it that way. If a patient is in pain and feels better after being administered a placebo, it, in essence, doesn’t matter why they feel better. What matters is that they do. Though this does not address all kinds of pain, and while pain medication is still needed, a placebo can be a powerful alleviator of pain. And isn’t this the intended outcome?
What is interesting about the study, then, isn’t the power of placebo, but rather, their findings on what situations are most effective in administering the placebo, and maximizing its effects on the patient.
The findings were stated thus, “Based on our own research, we conclude that beneficial outcomes are most likely to occur when both the [health care professional] and the client feel safe and relaxed, and when the experiences of the client are validated.”
The key word, there, is validation. No patient wants to be told their pain is an illusion and just “in their head.” Because it’s not, actually. Aside from certain people with mental disorders, a patient that is in pain is in pain: pure and simple.
The study goes on to explain, “We believe that research in this field needs to be ‘trans-disciplinary’, escaping from the constraints of the purely biomedical, deterministic, positivist paradigm of most medical research.”
This last conclusion seems to be quite a breakthrough. In terms of treatment, there needs to be more collaborative effort among both medical professionals and other professionals, such as psychologists, and so on.
To put an interpretive spin on it, the study seems to be admitting that the care of a person requires a more holistic approach than treating them from only a medical, biological, psychology, or other disciplines. All are needed, depending upon the person’s condition.
People are complex beings. They are structures and systems of intricate behavioral, situational, biological, and psychological factors. Though isolation of one from another is still essential for research, recognizing the complexity of humans is important in how health care professionals treat their symptoms.
- Dieppe, P., S. Goldingay, and M. Greville-Harris. ‘The Power and Value of Placebo and Nocebo in Painful Osteoarthritis’. June 22, 2016. Accessed August 3, 2016. http://www.oarsijournal.com/article/S1063-4584(16)30137-6/references.