Following is an excerpt from a lecture I was invited to give to a group of healthcare practitioners and lay caregivers. This was in response to a self-help DVD my company, Synoptics Research LLC, had created. I've been asked to make it available via blog.
I'm here to talk to you today about the power of the mind in healing. As many of you already know, close to 40% of the population turns to complementary and/or alternative medicine when faced with health concerns. The percentage is even higher when you factor in those people who use a combination of alternative and conventional approaches. Several of the non-conventional modalities are recommended by the AMA.
Hypnotherapy is one of the recommended modalities, particularly for stress reduction and pain management; in many cases these two are the same thing. But while pain management basically means symptom relief and is for the most part localized, stress reduction is systemic and results in an overall sense of well being. Knowing techniques for both pain management and stress relief is essential if you want to help patients whose pain meds aren't working or who want to avoid the side effects of pharmacological interventions. Equally important, stress reduction techniques are something you'll find helpful not only for your patients' health, but for your own as well. There's growing concern about "care for the caregiver"---an increasing awareness that help is needed to alleviate burnout and stress in this group, in your group! This is true for both professional and lay caregivers: clearly no one benefits if the person doing the caregiving is also ill.
So how does this work? How does the application of a technique result in actual, tangible relief? This is where we move into the field of mind-body medicine, a relatively new arena in western healing. Mind-body medicine is focused on the effects of our thoughts---the literal chemistry of our thoughts. It studies how our thoughts make us well and, conversely, how they make us ill.
The first time I heard the concept behind "the placebo effect" I was blown away. I immediately wanted to know more, but this was a long time ago, way before it was possible to sit down at a computer and do a google search. Because I had taken Latin in high school, I knew that placebo literally translates as "to please." But it wasn't until I saw it in the context of medicine that I understood "to please" referred to placating a patient with an inert sugar pill, or even the standard old-school doctor's advice: "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning." Both of these pieces of practitioner wisdom are based on the premise that the body has its own healing mechanisms and can do its best work when we get out of the way. This is something that has been largely ignored by the pharmacological industry, where interference, or intervention, is the focus.
The purpose of placebo is to help the patient back off, settle their fears, and allow the possibility of healing to occur. What kind of interference is the placebo attempting to alleviate? It's meant to dispel the fear-chatter that overtakes people when they're worried about their health. This underscores the dynamic of thought in relation to health. While a placebo was originally intended to please, or fool, a patient into thinking that healing was taking place, we now know that even the expectation of that healing affects the pleasure center in the brain, with the resultant release of feel-good chemicals, endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, all of which aid in the healing process.
The DVD that Synoptics created is one big placebo. Its intention is to shift the viewer's mind away from their fears while reminding them of the incredible healing potential already in place in their immune system. It does this with a strong motivational message, dynamic graphics, a bit of education, and hypnotherapeutic suggestions based on the knowledge that we, within ourselves, are powerful healers.