Placebo Effects in Practice

Placebo effects (also known as context effects) are the beneficial effects that come from the the context of your encounter with a doctor or alternative provider. A patient’s hope of relief provided by the placebo or treatment, requires intervention from others (like your provider) rather than a self-generated response. In laymen’s terms, a provider’s empathy for you, the organoleptics of the tea, tincture, or capsule you take, and even the clinic environment can all provide positive effects to you, even when no treatment has been given.

Placebo effects in the literature

The placebo effect has been much studied over the last twenty years, and it is noted that the biopsychosocial dynamic of an herbalist’s authority and their ability to comfort a client, “as well as anxiety reduction, generated by the healer are likely to activate the placebo effect” (Miller et al., 2009, p. 12).

Snow (2016) states that, “the expectancy of positive health outcomes, based on the intersection of chemosensory perception and personal experience” (page 56) also help the patient have faith in the herbal formula. For example, the ability to taste and smell a tea or tincture can give the patient more belief that it will work than a tasteless pill.

Essentially, placebo effects are a byproduct of positive face to face encounters and treatment from providers. These positive effects on the mind and body are a great reason to build a good relationship with your providers. Communication is key to fostering a good relationship. As your belief in your provider strengthens, it can strengthen the results of your treatment effects over time. The opposite is also true: negative encounters can weaken the results of your treatment. If you are walk away from a doctor or alternative provider’s office with negative feelings, you should consider finding another provider.

Miller, F.G., Colloca, L., & Kaptchuk, T.J. (2009) The placebo effect: illness and interpersonal healing. Perspectives in Biological Medicine 52(4):518. doi:10.1353/pbm.0.0115

Snow, J. (2016). Context effects in western herbal medicine: Fundamental to effectiveness? Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 12(1), 55-62. DOI: j.explore.2015.10.004

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