I get asked about the placebo effect a lot. In fact, in just over 9 months, I’ve been asked to write about it in my email newsletter twice. I had a patient a few weeks ago who came in barely walking with sciatic pain. After two treatments cleared the pain completely he said “Oh, maybe it was placebo”.

And maybe it was.

This is a sentence that frustrates the heck out of most alternative health practitioners. Not me. I LOVE IT. I have an obsession with the placebo effect. I follow the work of Ted Kaptczuk – originally an acupuncturist and currently the Director of the Harvard-wide Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS) at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

And would be enrolling in the PiPS program if my area of greatest interest was research. I simply like working with patients too much to let it go.

PiPS mission is this:

The Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter enables researchers, clinicians, scholars, and students to examine the biological basis of the placebo response and the implications of medical ritual, the patient-provider relationship, cultural context, and the power of imagination, trust and hope in the healing process. Through interdisciplinary endeavors to elucidate, quantify, and optimize the “non-specific” dimensions of health care, PiPS seeks to promote patient-centered approaches that improve the effectiveness of clinical care and the efficiency of pharmaceutical development.


In regular people speak, here is the deal.


The placebo effect is amazing because it creates ACTUAL change in the body. The placebo, long thought to be a negative thing – a sign that medicine didn’t work – is now being studied in order to figure out how to enhance it’s effect and give patients’ better outcomes with their treatments. They are basically trying to figure out how to ADD MORE PLACEBO EFFECT to your treatment so that you get better faster.

The best part about this information for me is this: YOU can decide how much placebo effect to add and how.

Here are the things that we know have an effect on the outcome of your treatment

**The patient / practitioner relationship. This means, the more you believe that the person treating you can help you, the more they will.

**The environment of the treatment. If you hate hospitals but love small offices with soft colors – go to the hospital only when necessary and find a doctor that has an office that feels good to you.

**The power of imagination / visualization. Your ability to imagine a treatment working makes it work better. For instance, your brain can release pain reducing chemicals that match the ones that you’d get from a pill by just picturing it working.

**Treatment ritual. The taking of a pill, the laying down with a heat pack, the walking into your acupuncturist’s office, the things that have worked for you in the past start working again when you think about them and work even better when you do them. How often have you made a doctors appointment for a problem that disappeared the day you were meant to go in?

As the research continues, we will learn more and more about how to increase your placebo effect and get you healthier cheaper and faster by using the power of your brain.

Super cool, right?

Check out the PiPS program here. What they are doing is super interesting and I hope it will change the face of medicine in the future.

People are not robots and medicine need not be only biomechanical. If we can harness the power of the tools of the modern medicine with the power of the mind and bring them together – you will get healthier faster and easier. Who doesn’t want that?