Placebo vs Nocebo – Mental isn’t it !?

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We've all heard of the 'Placebo Effect'. Books have been written about it, academic papers have examined it, and people have experienced it.

Randomised control trials in the medical field use placebo as a control group when testing a new drug. From the total number of participants in any new study, half will receive the active drug and half will receive a sugar pill. It is hoped that those receiving the active substance will experience healing, and it is assumed that those receiving the sugar pill will experience nothing.

But this just isn't the case!

It has become increasingly evident over time that people who take the placebo in these randomised control studies actually experience healing as well. Sometimes as many as those receiving the active substance.

So what's going on?

Do sugar pills hold some magical power that we knew nothing about?


Our minds hold magical powers that we tend to overlook.

In control studies, nobody knows if they are receiving the active substance or not. Not even the scientists performing the test. When somebody with an ailment enters the study, it is their belief in the effectiveness of the drug they are taking that dictates the direction of their healing. This is what accounts for the incredible stories associated with spontaneous healing from having taken a placebo.

In a nut shell our belief in the pill, placebo or not, invokes a mental process of giving the body permission to heal !

Yes, belief is THAT strong!

So, if the strength of our belief can allow our bodies to heal, it can also allow our bodies to fall into disease. This is where the opposite to placebo, the nocebo effect, comes into play.

When I was first diagnosed with PTSD and Depression, one of the first things that fell from my therapists lips was it would take a long time for me to heal my mind after everything I had experienced. At the time I didn't have the strength to know any better and I bought into this belief because it had been given to me by a professional. I wrongly assumed that he must be right because he sees cases like mine on a daily basis. Buying into his belief left me feeling low, unhappy, and downright dejected. All symptoms of the nocebo effect.

Every time I would go to see him I experienced this nocebo effect. I would have to psyche myself up to attend his sessions, and it would take me days to overcome the experience afterwards. Luckily there was only an allocation of time for 12 sessions with him, and when they came to a close I didn't actually feel any better about my situation. In fact, I think I can safely say, I felt worse from the endless probing of EMDR treatments.

Left to my own devices I didn't have a constant reminder that I would take an age to heal my mind. I began to notice that compared to around 5 days of misery surrounding a therapy session, I would only have maybe 2 days of feeling low and despondent about my recovery. I put this down to my not receiving debilitating information from my therapist. I was not having the nocebo effect reinforced every week.

I read so often in different mental health forums that you can never overcome mental illness. And to them I say... Yes, that is true, because that is what you believe. In my mind they are reinforcing their own nocebo effect and keeping their body in a perpetual state of expecting not to heal.

For me though... I believe you can overcome mental illness. I have spent a long time now examining the strength of my beliefs, both placebo and nocebo, in all aspects of my life. The debilitating beliefs I was given as a child, from my parents, through school, through work. The perpetual untruths ingrained into my psyche of not being good enough, not being able to overcome trials and tribulations.

The programming we receive throughout our lives keeps us trapped in a state of giving our power over to others and not taking responsibility for ourselves. We carry guilt and blame with us, a constant ego bedfellow which take us away from an awareness of our power to be free and open to the wonderful abilities we have to heal ourselves.

I have come to the conclusion that the nocebo effect has no place in my life. I choose to live from a constant space of placebo where I know I can overcome anything and everything that life throws my way.

I know I can, because I believe I can... and therefore, for me, it is true !