Placebo: 5 strategies to increase the effect of your treatment

8 min. reading time

For many of us it is unreal that what we think and what we feel in our bodies are strongly related. Still, there is a lot of evidence that what we think and what we expect has (a lot of) influence on our bodies!

The best known example of this is called the 'placebo' effect. A placebo is a medicine (or operation) without active ingredients. So instead of getting a pill with the real substance in it, someone gets a pill with no active ingredients. 

As early as 1572, Michel de Montaigne noticed that some people feel better just by looking at a medicine! It took about until the middle of 1950 before any really good scientific evidence was produced. This evidence could be found in pain medicine. A well-known scientific article stated that 35% of patients with pain complaints were satisfied with a placebo treatment! Since then, this effect has been confirmed time and time again. Especially with pain complaints!

Placebo effect and pain

How does a placebo work?

How can it exist? Exactly how a placebo works is not completely known and probably also differs from one medicine to another and from one person to another. In any case, what we know is that our brains can react strongly to a placebo. As a result, the brain itself produces substances that inhibit the feeling of pain.

A good placebo effect increases the positive thoughts and expectations we have. We know that it helps with pain complaints. The brain creates pain when it concludes that there is danger. Positive thoughts and a feeling of control increase the chance that the brain assumes that there is no more danger, and therefore produces less pain. 

Let the placebo effect work for you too

It is now realised that we can use a lot of information about the placebo effect to increase the success of a treatment. Even if a treatment is 'real', we can still use knowledge of the placebo effect to increase the chances of a treatment succeeding even more! Developing established habits helps to increase the effect. With the tips below you can increase the chance of success of any treatment!

  1. Make sure you choose a treatment and/or practitioner you trust. The more confident you are, the greater the chance of a good outcome. Treatment providers who care that you feel understood will help enormously. 
  2. Check for yourself whether you feel motivated enough for the treatment. Especially if you are expected to make adjustments in your life, it can be difficult to maintain this for a longer period of time.
  3. Keep the number of therapists limited. Treatment providers who are unclear, with vague diagnoses or always come up with different solutions often work less well. 
  4. Develop habits that help you and be consistent. That doesn't even have to be with medication. You can also get up at the same time every day (for example, to meditate, go for a walk and drink a cup of coffee). 
  5. Read about your treatment or strategy, and why it helps. It is quite difficult to stick to certain habits for long periods of time. Regularly reading a blog or book on this topic will remind your brain of positive expectations. 

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