Monday, November 30, 2009

Paul Nguyen, Certified Placebo Practitioner

These days, more and more people are looking for natural ways to take care of everyday problems, from the common cold, to obesity, to arthritic pain, and beyond. Yet, many people are still looking for the "hard data" that proves that these natural remedies really work, because we are a statistics-obsessed culture that needs to see graphs and hear what the sample size is and what the standard deviation is, and so on and so forth. And we need to know exactly WHY a certain cure does what it does. According to this recent health article in MSNBC, the only reason you need to know for why most alternative methods are effective is a simple one: We believe in them.

It's the good ol' placebo effect, people, and we've known about it for a long, long time. When people simply expect that they are receiving a treatment, they tend to get better. According to scientists, the placebo effect accounts for about a third of the benefits of any treatment, and that includes the rigorously tested medicines produced by the pharmaceutical industry.

Fortunately for me as a hypnotherapist, I'm able to make an entire career out of the placebo effect, and not only do I have no shame about that, but it is the exact reason why people come to see me. The placebo effect accounts for ALL of the benefit a person receives from hypnosis. Here's how: By the time a client has dialed my number, they are already aware that the problem is in their mind, and, therefore, so is the solution. If a client believes wholeheartedly that they will succeed with the help of hypnosis, then my job is bascially already done, and a successful outcome for that client is all but assured. And as a session concludes, if a person truly believes that the problem in their subconscious mind has been eliminated, then, in fact, it has been. Thank you very much, you may pay with cash, check, or credit card, and make all checks payable to either Moodstreams, or Paul Nguyen, Certified Consulting Hypnotist.

Is that a bad thing? I, of course, would say it's not. A client is paying for a solution to a problem, and I give them that. Money tendered for services rendered. Yet there are a few people out there who might still see themselves as being "cheated" if whatever benefit they were receiving from a treatment - whether it be acupuncture, a prescribed pill, an herb, or hypnosis - was actually coming simply from their own positive expectation. They'd like to know that those needles poking into their feet were ACTUALLY doing something, and that the bitter decoction of herbs that they have to drink daily was ACTUALLY rearranging their body chemistry somehow.

Well, the reality of it is, an element of belief exists in the effectiveness of EVERY therapy since the dawn of mankind (and maybe the dawn of animalkind), regardless of what form it takes, or how that therapy is advertised to work. I would say that hypnosis is at one extreme of that, while pharmaceutical drugs are at the other extreme. See, hypnosis deals with the human perception of things, which everyone can admit is entirely subjective, and consequently so is the therapy. And drugs tend to treat more measurable characteristics like cholesterol or pain, but also treat subjective conditions like pain or anxiety. Drugs have also happened to be the most rigorously tested of all the treatments on this continuum over the years, and here is where people started to acknowledge the power of human belief, as in many of these tests, people given dummy pills frequently experienced the same effects as people given the real drug, as long as everyone was told what benefits to expect. The article goes into greater detail about how this might work.

So, if even "hard science" has shown that human expectation plays a role in recovery regardless of what the treatment is, isn't it time we all started to embrace Placebo Power? And isn't it time we started to measure the total effectiveness of a remedy (which includes the power of belief), instead of measuring the effect of the remedy versus the placebo?

In the end, who really cares how you're getting better, as long as you do get better, right?

If you think about it in those terms, that actually makes hypnosis the most honest profession of all! We tell you the benefit is all in your head, and that's exactly what you get. No need to wonder if it's the pills, the needles, the herbs, or your mind that's doing all the work. So with that in mind, who's next in line to have a big fat dose of nothing?

1 comment:

  1. Well. That was quite a thought provoking article. I have to admit though, I'd rather take hypnosis instead of heroine for my problems. Placebo effect aside, your podcasts are doing the trick for me. I listen to them and choose to put in my head what you are saying and am able to get out thinking about my problems. In case no one has told you lately, your brand of placebo is helping people.

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