I don’t know if any of you watched the BBC’s recent Horizon programme The Placebo Experiment, but it was a fascinating account of the power that the mind has over the body.
Dr Michael Mosley staged one of Britain’s largest ever trials to investigate the ‘placebo effect’.
This the commonly observed phenomenon that people sometimes get better of their own accord, simply because they believe they are taking something that will ‘cure’ them.
It’s such a powerful effect that in drug trials, pharmaceutical companies always give volunteers in a control group a fake pill that looks identical to the trial drug, to gauge whether it really works.
However, almost without exception, a significant minority on the fake pill get better, too – often as high as 20% of the participants.
The cause of the placebo effect has never been researched in any detail, probably because there is little financial motivation for drug companies to do so.
In the Horizon programme, Dr Mosley went to Blackpool to carry out an experiment on 117 people suffering from backache – one of the most common types of chronic pain – before trying to treat them with nothing but fake pills and the power of the mind.
They think they are taking part in the trial of a powerful new painkiller, and split into two groups – one taking the ‘wonder drug’ and the other taking a placebo, as with a normal trial.
What none of them know is that the blue-and-white capsules being taken by the group on the ‘drug’ contain nothing but ground-up rice – the same as being taken by the control group.
After three weeks, 44% of those taking what they thought was a real drug were convinced their back pain had diminished – many, dramatically so.
This is the power of the mind at work, and is why hypnotherapy can be such a powerful and effective treatment.
In hypnosis, the mind is much more ‘suggestible’ than in a normal conscious state, so ideas implanted in the subconscious that you will have a positive outcome are readily believed, and the body responds accordingly.
Hypnotherapy is particularly effective at helping people suffering from depression, anxiety, phobias and other mind-related issues, but can also be used to help control pain, using exactly the same mechanism as the placebo effect.