Why Aren’t We Embracing the Placebo Effect?

“I make a very simple point here: the fact that something does not work through a known and logical mechanism should not make us unwilling to adopt it.”
~Rory Sutherland

Why aren’t we embracing the placebo effect? That is my question to you.

I was recently listening to the book Alchemy by Rory Sutherland, and he dedicates a few chapters of the book to the power and importance of the placebo effect. He starts in chapter 4.1, and it comes up often from there on.

“Placebos have no direct medical efficacy, but their effect on our psychology may be just as significant as a medical effect in some cases” ~Rory Sutherland

I think it is important to explore this further. I know a lot of people who enjoy studying human behavior. Part of human behavior is the placebo effect, and it seems to get ignored by the medical and scientific community and exploited by the marketing and political community.  Maybe if we talked about it more and embraced it better, we would have a healthier balance.

The Placebo Effect is when “a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to
the properties of the placebo itself and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment.”  ~Google dictionary 

I talk often about the neurology of the brain and how that plays into our decision-making process. Emotions also play a large role in our decision process, ok most of our decision-making process, we just don’t like to admit it to anyone. But we aren’t always making conscious decisions. Thank goodness or we would be dead because we would have forgotten to breathe by now, breathing is a very unconscious decision. Hell, it is an automatic response. It just happens. There are many other choices we have to decide on each day, and we do it almost automatically. Take for example finding a parking spot at your favorite retail store. You factor in all sorts of things as to why you park where you do, you are not conscious of most of it. Your subconsciousness was doing most of the work.

I see it time and time again.  The power of our thinking plays a bigger role in our decision-making process at times than anything else. When I say “power of our thinking” I am talking about our focus on the future, the outcome, the mission, the goal, and the fears.

Timing in life really is everything.

The most logical right thing at the wrong time isn’t helpful and can be harmful. Ask anyone who has fallen in love with someone, and that person is just about to move cross country to go to college. Or for example, heart medication when you don’t have a heart problem. Those are moments of the right thing and the wrong time.

We have to be more than open to the placebo effect. We need to be mindful of it and embrace it when it helps to move us ahead. Our minds are far more amazing and complicated than science can even explain at this time. We have not evolved enough to be able to totally understand the magnitude of and magic of our bodies. I can prove this, look at all of the people working in science and research studying the human body. Because we are still exploring and learning we need to be open to the fact that we don’t have all of the answers and at times we can still achieve the needed or desired outcomes, we just aren’t going to be able to explain why.

The placebo effect needs to be taken into consideration as part of the healing and growing process in life. Sometimes we need to support our brain with it goals by giving it a little more belief that we can do it.

One of my clients has spent years trying to increase her water intake. She has bought every kind of water holder you can think of. She has tried all of the flavors available to add to your water. At one point she bought a water jug that connected to her phone via Bluetooth and the bottom would light up if she didn’t drink from it in an hour. All of that effort and only a little progress toward her goal of 8 cups of water per day. On a recent camping trip, she bought some large waters called “Smart Water.” She said in the weeks that she has had those bottles and keeps refilling them, she has been drinking more water than ever. Her brain likes to see the word “SMART” on the bottle. Who cares why it works, embrace the win and use it?

Another friend of mine swears by Bayer aspirin for your back. I mean she won’t leave home without it. It fixes almost all of what ails her at any time. I am jealous. When you look up the properties of this great and powerful aspirin you learn that they just added a little bit of caffeine to it. That is the only thing that makes it different than regular aspirin and my friend drinks plenty of coffee, so we know she is getting her caffeine. Neither of us can fully understand or explain why this product is such cure-all for her. My question is why does it matter that we understand? It doesn’t. It matters that it helps her feel better.

I encourage you to start to embrace and enjoy the placebo effect. Don’t be ashamed of it, don’t be afraid of it, just understand that it exists and that it has value. 

Where have you experienced the placebo effect? And where could you stand to experience the placebo effect?

Maybe it is time to be open to all of the possibilities.



JoyGenea Schumer
Business Owner, International Neurodiversity Coach, and Speaker


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