Placebo effect - good; Nocebo effect - very bad.

We are familiar with placebo; nocebo may be more important. Photo: wikicommons

WASHINGTONJuly 12, 2013 — During a recent conversation, David Berman, C.Ht, mentioned the term “nocebo.”  Berman, an Arcata, California based Clinical and Medical Hypnotist and Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Life Coach, is well-acquainted with the both the placebo effect and the lesser known nocebo effect.

The placebo effect is when a medically administered product, such as medicine or a procedure, is introduced that is inert and ineffective but “causes” a patient to feel better and physically improve because they believe they received something beneficial.

Some doctors who know a patient suffers from a psychosomatic condition, meaning the illness is has physical symptoms but is due to mental or emotional causes, wrote them prescriptions for obecalp, complete with dosage. “Obecalp” is placebo spelled backwards. The doctor wrote the prescription to avoid prescribing real and unnecessary medication.

Placebo is Latin for “I shall please.” Conversely, nocebo is Latin for “I shall harm.” In medicine, this means a harmless substance or procedure believed by a patient to be harmful can create harmful effects.

However, in psychology, both terms have extended meanings. Both effects are psychogenic or not physical but in the mind and greatly imbedded in attitude.

OB/GYN Lissa Rankin, M.D., author and founder of Owning Pink Wellness Center, a women’s health practice in Mill Valley, California, echoed what many in the field of psychology already know, saying positive thinking and uplifting self-encouragement can heal the mind. In other words, one’s thoughts can have substantial positive effect. By the same token, poor, negative and dark thinking can adversely affect one’s health and this is a prime example of the nocebo effect.

SEE RELATED: Does hypnotherapy work? Science says “YES!”

This is where the relatively new filed of positive psychology comes in. Positive psychology focuses on the strengths and positive self-healing and mentally uplifting thoughts as a means to achieve greater levels of happiness.

A person has an average of over 60,000 individual thoughts daily and the preponderance of these thoughts are “Through a glass darkly.” The result will not only be a constant brooding mood, but this type of thinking will generally affect one’s physical health over a period of time.

The release of bad hormones, blood pressure raising thoughts and black moods will create levels of stress and anxiety that can even shorten life. Emotions that generate the nocebo effect can literally drive one to self-induced disorders of many different types.

The old clichés of ‘think positive’ and ‘keep smiling’, ‘laugh and the whole world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone’ and of course, the little happy face stickers we see everywhere have a clinical effect that can help folks overcome depressive thoughts and negative affect.

Perhaps this is why nature has built into humanity that it only takes about 17 muscles to smile and about 43 to frown.


Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.


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