Doing Life Together

pills-1569173_1920He was part of a clinical trial. Take this drug and your pain goes away. But he didn’t know if he was really getting the drug or if he was getting what is called a placebo–a pill that does nothing because it is fake.

He reported that his pain was much improved. The researchers looked and he was not on the new drug, rather he had been given a placebo. So how is it that he felt so much better? Ahhhhh…that is the power of the mind. He thought he was getting a pain reliever and because of that thought, he felt better.

One explanation for what might be happening here could simply involve time. When we hurt or go to a doctor, we may start to feel better just because time is making things better. Another possibility is that simply knowing you are getting help may push you to be more aware of signs of improvement. In other words, you look for and focus on signs of health. That positive focus helps you feel better.

With pain, we also know that our expectations and learning can make us feel better as well. For example, let’s say you took a pill and it worked. The next time you take a pill, even if it was a placebo, it might work because your brain remembers and learns. We respond to things positively and negatively based on cues in our environment and then remember those cues. So having a response in the past can help you have that same response in the future due to how the brain learns. Researchers have found that with pain, you can condition pain relief with your mind. If you think you are taking a pain pill, yet it is a placebo, you can still activate the painkilling system in the brain.

And let’s say that you watch another person get relief from taking a pill or doing a procedure. You could respond with relief as well because of the power of watching and your brain learning and responding to those same cues. Then add a warm and empathetic person who cares about you, and you may feel even more relief. Why? Because we have a belief and expectation that people who care will help us feel better.

Bottom line: Placebo helps symptoms of pain because pain is modulated by the mind. The mind has the power to mimic a drug and release opioids and other endorphins in the brain. Thinking that something is helping your pain affects the pain you report. So think on things that are good and helpful and you might just feel better.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus