A response to Carl Elliott’s “Placebo, RSI, Scrivener’s Palsy,” in particular to the statement “Many doctors continue to think that some individual patients are simply more susceptible to the placebo effect than others – more gullible, more neurotic or more acquiescent to authority.” Let’s put a different spin on “gullible, neurotic, or acquiescent” and call it “smart, rational, or resistant.”
Consider hypnotherapy, which is essentially a condition in which a therapist forms a hypnotic bridge between consciousness and unconsciousness, thereby enabling the patient to access the unconscious in the interests of healing. Hypnotherapy is a deep, deep state of relaxation, and in that relaxation, consciousness and unconsciousness become a single continuum. Body and soul cease to be separated.
From my experience, I offer you three examples. First, I had root canal done with hypnotherapy as the only anesthetic. To the astonishment of the dentist, his assistant, and the therapist, my first words when coming out of the trance were, “Well, that was nice!” While they had been doing a root canal, I had been having a lovely rest. My therapist, in his wisdom, has learned to give me very general directions, and then let my own creative mind chose the specifics of my experience. While they spent a gloomy afternoon in a high-rise office building in Central New York, I spent a sunlit day in my childhood playing in front of a cottage on the Chesapeake Bay.
Does the mind have to be present where the body is? Given the mechanical model, we are to understand the mind as a ghost, in which case we can neither learn nor do anything new. Given a model in which the thereal and the ethereal are allowed to coexist, much can be done. American medicine believes absolutely that the mind can make the body ill. Why does it not also believe that the mind can make the body well? The mind is powerful and can be directed for health or sickness. Is it gullibility that makes a placebo effective, or is it the body’s desire to be healthy, given a little encouragement? Can the body be made well simply by the suggestion that it can be made well?
In the second example from my experience, I had uncontrolled menopausal bleeding for several weeks. The gynecologist was insistent on an invasive endometrial biopsy, probably followed by a D&C. I stubbornly held my ground and said, “Give me a week.” In that week, we used acupuncture, and hypnotherapy from a book that has gone out of print. The bleeding stopped and there was no recurrence. Did the bleeding stop because I am “more neurotic” than most, or because I am deeply spiritual and was supported and encouraged in my ability to put my spirit to work to solve the problem?
A placebo is nothing but a concrete, physical manifestation of the spiritual and psychological actions and interactions within the patient and between the patient and doctor. In hypnotherapy, you simply omit the pill and go directly to the mind/body connection. What can the mind do to heal the body?
Consequent to kidney damage, I have unstable adrenal glands and too often the least little thing will result in the excessive production of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. In hypnotherapy, we tried directly addressing my adrenal glands and inviting them to slow down. It didn’t work. What did work was the therapist, during hypnotherapy, repeatedly using the words “peace” and “calm.” I was blissed out, benign, sanguine. The next day, after a few minutes of chatting with my psychiatrist, he burst out, “What is wrong with you?” None of the tranquilizers he’d given me had ever had the calmative effect that hypnotherapy did.
Why do doctors have such a negative aspect on patients who can heal themselves with suggestions? Why do they not honor their patients who have healing in their mind?