So what IS the placebo response?   The medical definition is ” A positive medical response to taking a placebo (inactive substance), as if it were an active medication.”  This also applies to other modalities such as surgery and complementary medications or processes.  So many people say “It’s just a placebo” to downplay the effectiveness of a treatment, and a lot of complementary therapists get really upset by that.    I don’t.  There’s massive value in the placebo response!   (OK, I get it, your therapy is more than a placebo!)

However, consider that every clinical trial for drugs or surgery HAS to measure success against not just a control group, but an inactive treatment.  And that many drugs on the market which get a 70% or better therapeutic effectiveness (and not all of them do!) can achieve as little as 10 or 20% better results than the ‘neutral option’ ( the Placebo) and yet be touted as a new wonder drug.   So an interesting question to consider  is how much of any drug or therapy effect is the placebo response?  That’s not to downplay the benefit of the active components which really make a difference! However it can be extremely difficult to disassociate the two sufficiently to work out what to increase/focus on to improve a therapeutic response!

The trigger for the placebo response can include ‘a kiss on the ouchy’ from mum, or stroking a pet or a walk somewhere beautiful, to the calm presence of a healer (whether medical or complementary) who believes in what they’re doing or a thousand other things.   The body’s natural healing response is enhanced whenever it’s relaxed, enhanced when the mind believes that something has benefit, soothed by the presence of a perceived source of safety.  It triggers a response in the limbic system, that very primitive part of the brain, which is the opposite of ‘fight or flight’, instead being perceived as a threat, something is perceived as being a positive resource, a nurturing influence, a source of safety.

The whole immune system can stop being defensive, and goes into active healing mode, a beneficial combination of hormones, chemicals, calm blood pressure and breathing, increase in absorption of nutrients, and a thousand other things.  Essentially, it’s all moving in the direction of balance and wholeness.

HOW?  There’s an interesting link (below) to an experiment on this topic, that shows that it’s not only conscious belief that’s at play here, but also the whole system’s unconscious, intrinsic ability to recognise something which is either a threat or a source of benefit.  Which makes what we as therapists offer to clients by RADIATING OUR BEST STATE and creating healthy rapport of enormous value before we do anything additional to support health and well-being in our clients.  I teach active techniques to create this in my “Resilient Therapist” workshops.

So if someone is inclined to say “It’s JUST a placebo”, try saying instead:   “It’s a WONDERFUL trigger of the placebo healing response”  or “It’s a powerful example of the body’s ability to heal via the placebo response” !!!!


(I also highly recommend Dr David Hamilton’s books for further exploration of this topic.  He worked in the pharmaceutical world running clinical trials for many years, and now brings that knowledge into a spiritual and healing space.   He’s a great presenter too!)

For more information on this topic, and the “Resilient Therapist” programme, please contact Jen Tiller, founder of Healerzone
+44 (0)1462 624 160  or 

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