Before we can answer or at least approach an answer as to whether hypnosis is a placebo effect or not, perhaps we should recap on what a placebo is.
The placebo effect is when a treatment with no apparent active component causes a person to improve a medical condition.
In short something that shouldn’t affect a condition causes it to improve.
There is a wealth of research and evidence around placebos. Irving Kirsch, one of the world’s foremost researchers in to placebo referred to hypnosis as a non deceptive placebo.
So rather than go in to too much depth here, I wanted instead to say whether it matters or not that hypnosis is a placebo. Of course personally I don’t think it is a placebo, but I’m prepared to look at the possibility.
We’ve all been programmed to see placebo as a bad thing. It is from a drug company point of view. They have to conduct trials to prove that their products perform better than the average placebo, they use what we call double blind trials where the people administering treatment doesn’t know if they are giving placebo or real treatment, and some people get the real treatment and others get a sugar pill, or the equivalent.
The drug companies are spending a lot of money to beat the sugar pill. And in a lot of cases, they do no better. Google the placebo effect if you want more figures, but many drugs just don’t do better than placebo. In fact there have been studies done that have shown a lot of anxiety medicine actually doesn’t do better than placebo in the real world.
So here’s the thing from my simplistic mind point of view. If what I do is a placebo, then so be it. That means that I can help around 50% of people who come to see me just by being there and claiming to do hypnosis and not even trying. That’s not what I do by the way, but I could get away with that.
So let’s take that a stage further. Lets say that all alternative or complementary treatments are placebo. I don’t believe that but let’s take that point of view for a moment.
If we start from a position that everyone has a therapy that triggers their placebo response, then it should just be a matter of time until virtually everyone can be treated by placebo for many common ailments. Should we still see that as a bad thing or is it work that we should be looking in to to save the drug bills in the UK NHS and all sorts of other expenses.
There will always be some things that don’t respond to placebo. So we treat them using conventional medicine.
So is hypnosis a placebo. There is evidence in MRI scanners that shows unusual brain activity in hypnosis. But quite what that means I don’t know. If you triggered a person’s placebo response that might do the same.
It was just a thought. 🙂