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If "worrying yourself sick" is completely plausible, then shouldn't you be able to think yourself well? Most of us have heard of psychosomatic illness where real physical symptoms are caused by emotions or thoughts. Ever heard of psychosomatic wellness? You have probably heard of the placebo effect. Same thing.

If “worrying yourself sick” is completely plausible, then shouldn’t you be able to think yourself well?

Most of us have heard of psychosomatic illness where real physical symptoms are caused by emotions or thoughts.  Ever heard of psychosomatic wellness? You have probably heard of the placebo effect.  Same thing.

The placebo effect occurs, for example, when someone is given a completely inert treatment, usually a sugar pill, and it has significant, beneficial, healing results. Studies have shown that a sugar pill can be as effective as morphine in 56% of people. There is also some scientific evidence that concludes that nearly all of the benefits reported by users of antidepressants are a result of the placebo effect.

In their book Power Up Your Brain, David Perlmutter and Alberto Villoldo, compare the very real placebo effect with the practices of shamans, medicine men and women, and healers which are sometimes labeled quackery and superstition.  Traditional societies have long understood the power of the mind to heal the body.  New studies seem to indicate that there is benefit realized not only from the positive thinking, but the performance of the medical ritual.  The ritual of administering the placebo takes the place of the sometimes elaborate pomp and ceremony shamans use to mobilize the mind’s ability to heal.

As a humorous aside, in the book they suggest that chicken soup be pressed into a pill and sold under the brand name “Placebo.”  They further state that legitimate, scientific claims could made proclaiming its effectiveness in treating everything from headaches to erectile dysfunction.

If the mind can be used to heal, it can also be used to kill. The nocebo is the evil counterpart to the placebo.  It is an otherwise inert or harmless substance that can cause detrimental effects due to a person’s negative beliefs or expectations.

One of the authors of the book, Albert Villoldo, Ph.D., is a trained psychologist and medical anthropologist and has also studied the practices of the Andean and Amazon shamans for 25 years.  He tells of being in the Peruvian Amazon and witnessing a perfectly healthy man being “cursed” by a local sorcerer. The man came in for a consultation.  The native healer told the man his nausea and headaches were being caused by this curse.  He was dead within 24 hours.

They question the long list of possible side effects and disclaimers that come with every medication we buy today. Could this be causing a nocebo effect?

Your mind has an amazingly powerful influence on your body’s functioning, health and healing.  This is the same capability that advertisers capitalize on from every angle these days.  You are told that, if you buy a certain car, you can feel young again or, if you drink a certain drink, you will instantly be popular or, if you use a certain toothpaste, you’ll sport an irresistible smile.  Rather than have this awesome power hijacked, why don’t we use it to promote life, health, and joy for ourselves?

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  1. Ande Waggener Reply

    Well said, Debbie! I have long understood the power of the mind to impact healing, or the lack thereof. What you expect, you create. We need to learn to be aware of and purposeful about what we choose to believe. Since beliefs aren’t facts, we might as well chose the ones that enhance our health instead of diminishing it!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks, Andee! I know in healing from my brain injury, visualizing, affirmations, and intentionally creating healing, positive beliefs really worked. It also allowed me to feel as if I was “doing something” actively when there was not really much else I could do. As you say, we are going to think and believe anyway. Why not choose the ones to benefit us and do something for our good?

  2. Debbie, I agree absolutely. The long list of side effects etc on medicine isn’t for the benefit of the patient anyway – it’s the pharma company’s first line of legal defence. And yes, I agree that it creates the nocebo effect for patients who take the time to look. So let’s continue to get the word out there to use our “awesome” brains to promote ‘life, health and joy’. Phenomenal. Take care, Stephen

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Stephen, you are so right. Most of what the pharmaceutical companies do has nothing to do with our health or wellness. Don’t even get me started! All the more reason that we HAVE to take responsibility for our own health. Physically and mentally. We can do so much for ourselves.

  3. This article’s good food for thought. (I’m always hungry.)

    Placebo effect is real because belief jump-starts the immune system and ramps up lots of other systems still under study. We use it when working with Alzheimer’s patients. They grew up believing doctors could give them pills to help them sleep peacefully, for example. The disease process can generate disturbing nightmares as mental defenses weaken in the course of tissue breakdown. These patients can often only achieve rest if given “sugar pills” – 500mg capsules that look just like “real medicine”. They accept that the pills will help them. The brain does the rest.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Exactly! You are so right. The book even says the same thing. They say that the placebo effect activates the immense healing power of the prefrontal cortex. The author says that he is often accused of practicing “nontraditional” medicine by employing such practices. Using one’s own body is nontraditional? Something here is back asswards! Sounds like you are doing some very progressive, healing, good work. Keep it up!

  4. Hi Debbie,

    This is a fascinating discussion! I too am a strong believer in the healing power of mind. At the same time, not all illnesses can be healed. There’s the other 44% – if my math is correct – who do not receive results from the placebo. Some illnesses come about due to karma and each karma has its own time span. There are ways to purify and accelerate karma, but these are not necessarily known by the ordinary Joe or Jill.

    I wouldn’t be too keen on giving placebos to people without their knowledge though. Spontaneous remission is also another interesting phenomena.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sandra, I agree with you. Not all illnesses can nor are supposed to be healed. There is merit and learning in the experience of the illness. However, this is where the power of the mind also comes in tremendously in learning to live with the disease and symptoms and still have a joyous, full as possible life. There is also tremendous value in learning to die with a disease and accepting death with some peace and appreciation for the life lived. Easy for me to say, because I don’t have to do it, huh?

      They even say in the book that giving someone a placebo with them knowing it is a placebo does not work.

    • I have to wonder if spontaneous remission and placebo are the same thing. After all, all healing comes from the body’s natural devices.
      Thank you, Debbie, for this article. I’m healing via mindbody, and I’m surprising myself these days by being interested in seeing what a Shaman could do for me. We really need more education about what “psychosomatic” and “placebo” really mean. Even doctors think both equate to “fake.” Thanks for enlightening.

      • Debbie Hampton Reply

        Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You have a point about spontaneous remission and placebo, basically, being the same process at work in the body. I would think that they probably are. Our bodies and minds are much more powerful than we know. We all can benefit by putting them to work consciously for us.

  5. Hey Debbie, you’ve created a wonderful place for empowering the mind here. Much appreciated. As of this post, I believe that visualization is just as affective as taking the pill. Instead of gulping it up, you only visualize doing it and feeling relaxed and healed. It’s easy and fun! Have tried it many times. Results appeared in less than a day.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Hey Jaky! Thank you much for the kind words. I fully believe what you say. Good for you for discovering and utilizing this. Visualization has been a powerful healing tool for me also.

      Now, how do we get the drug crazed medical community to start employing this? I like the idea of marketing a “Placebo” drug. I have no doubt that it would be as effective as half of the stuff on the market.

  6. Thank you for the great post!
    Recently I had two eye-opening experiences. Let me explain; one day I received a piece of ”hopeful” news which gave me so much ”physical energy” that on that day I went for a non-stop 20-mile run on an empty stomach (I had a very bad tummy on the night before) and had more energy to go out in the evening withstanding a 2-hour crowded train-journey (standing all the way).

    I am NOT showing off by mentioning all this, because if you know the fact that only a week later, that piece of the ”good” news turned out to be ”untrue” which suddenly completely disappointed me and ”weakened” me inside-out and I literally fainted in my bathroom, and even after I came around I was spread on the floor extremely unwell and I could not lift my own body.
    I could not believe how I could become suddenly so feeble.

    In my case, often ”hope” (or ”good expectation”) is the most powerful source of energy and happiness. If there is a hopeful expectation, I can bear a quite lot of pain. The loss of hope, on the other hand, is devastating for both physical and psychological health in my case.

    So I’m trying to ”cultivate hopes” consciously, if possible, to keep me happy and energized.

    Anyway, thank you very much again for your great post!!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Cheiko, welcome to the site and thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience. I can really relate to your story. Emotions manifest physically so much as you illustrate. I have experienced very similar situations with the loss of hope beingf the most profound. When this happens to me, I use my trusty tools….thought reframing, visualization, meditation, etc…to acknowledge and move through the not so great feelings to something better.

  7. It is important to give uplifting feedback when someone is not well rather than frighten them with horrendous possibilities if they don’t see a doctor, take a vaccination, or whatever. It’s hard to tell yourself these things and can benefit enormously when someone close to us says things to reinforce our ability to overcome using the placebo effect.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Denise, I could not agree more. I think negativeness, like a doctor’s prognosis, is a self fulfilling prophecy. It is just as easy to be positive. So, why not?

  8. I have found that it is belief that is the key factor both in the placebo and nocebo effects. The placebo pill that helps healing has an active ingredient if the doctor/healer upholds the belief in healing as well. The patient will believe that what they have been given will address the problem they have and thus their body stops reacting and returns to resting metabolism and health.

    I have seen in some cases allergies and other inflammation ceased because I believed that the substance I ate or rubbed on my skin would treat me. I later realized that the allergy or inflammation were cause by an unnecessary immune response because I believed something was harmful. I have since been able to discard the harmful idea from mind and prevent the problem at the start.

    • Sounds like you have learned the power of your mind firsthand, and how it can work for you or against you. I wish more people realized how powerful our minds are in controlling our bodies and creating our realities. When I learned this, life got much easier for me!

      • Hi Debbie. We tend to talk about “the power of the mind” but what I found is that we react to ideas that we uphold with confidence, i.e., beliefs. This means that the body is purpose-driven and not a machine as the medical industry claim.

        On another level there is power in the mind because when we are just we can use the mind to put directives to the Universe. You can counter attack an aggressor in the mind and stop them from being able to continue making mental attacks. They certainly will look to try and find ways around this but in reality there are no ways around it. Toxic people use deceit and intimidation to try and get around the other person’s free will but when the person is a non-toxic person and they understand how they can use their mental power, then they hold the trump card.

    • Exactly. What if we all used the power of outr minds that is responsible for the placebo and nocebo effect to heal and empower our bodies? I believe that’s what visualization, meditation, affirmations do.

      • Visualizations and affirmations are powerful when they are directives to the universe. They can bring an outcome but they have to be made from a position of authority. A non-toxic person has that authority to set directives for themselves and their property and anyone under their care in a positive way. We can’t just say we don’t like someone and try to do them harm. However if someone tries to harm us then we can counter their attacks and visualizations are extremely powerful. Toxic people try and get around the permission/ authority of another person through deceit and intimidation but it only works if the other person is ignorant of their foul play.

        Meditation can help but it is most useful for insightful observations and bring the body to a deep state of rest. I have used it to observe the course of cancer in my body and what I learnt enabled me to deliberately effect cancer remission and now to stage-manage my biology so I don’t develop cancer.

        We can overcome nocebo effects when we know what foul games we are up against and when we do we can very powerfully stand against the problem we face and of course in most cases there are toxic people involved. It is all about how a person can be manipulated using concealed threats and mentally presented ideas as to cause them to react inappropriately and thus suffer harm, especially where unnecessary and thus harmful immune responses are ignited.

        I am nearly finished a video I am making on placebo and nocebo effects. If you are interested I’ll post the link when I upload it on youtube.

        • I wish more people knew and used the power of their minds,It is really the only control we all have. Your video sounds interesting. Much luck with it.

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