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To demonstrate the true power of our thoughts, let us consider the placebo effect.

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The Power of Belief and the Placebo Effect

The belief that you are getting help, such as a treatment for depression or cancer, can actually cause your condition to improve. It might be easier to see how placebos influence depression with its more direct connection to thoughts, but it is also true that thoughts have an effect on something as concrete as the growth of cancer cells or blood pressure.  A review of relevant literature by Straus and von Ammon Cavanaugh (1996) show how placebo effects are widespread, known  in medication, psychotherapy and even surgery!

Interestingly, it is not only the patient’s but also of the physician’s belief that effects how well a treatment works. For instance, patients on placebo in the Coronary Drug Project (1980) with good relationships with their physician, (and who presumably believed in them), showed lower mortality rates.  Also, as discussed by Suedfeld (1984), a doctor with a pessimistic attitude may block the effects of real medication .

Are Alternative Remedies Just Placebos?

I have heard others criticize so called alternative remedies like acupuncture, stating that anyone who found any benefit was merely experiencing a placebo. I think many who make such statements do not fully appreciate what a placebo is. In medical and psychiatric journals they may refer to it as “non-specific effects” which is just a fancy way of saying “something worked but we don’t know what and we don’t know how.” Thus with no means to explain how acupuncture works within the framework of western medicine, any effects are attributed to placebo.

In the West, people are conditioned to believe that pills work, and as the placebo effect demonstrates, whether or not the pills are actual medicine, they do. Interestingly, there is growing mistrust in mainstream medicine and more and more people in the West are looking to traditional Eastern methodologies. The recent interest in medicinal practices like ancient Chinese medicine, acupuncture and Ayurveda as well as their reported effectiveness may be related to the doubts people hold in mainstream medicine and a growing faith in ancient wisdom to be more effective. For these people, alternative methods are as (and sometimes more) effective than mainstream westernized medicine.

So what is a placebo? Put simply, it is belief or the power of thought.

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Harnessing the Power of Thought

The placebo effect should not be discounted, it is demonstrated proof our thoughts and beliefs have real measurable effects on our ability to heal ourselves.  If placebos work when the person is essentially tricked, imagine how powerful the conscious application of thoughts and beliefs could be for healing and realizing our full potential.   If we could learn to harness this potent energy, our potential may be limitless.


Coronary Drug Project Group (1980).   The New England Journal of Medicine  303, 1038–104.

Straus, J.L., von Ammon Cavanaugh, S. (1996). Placebo effects: Issues for clinical practice in psychiatry and medicine. Psychosomatics 37, 315-326.

Suedfeld, P. (1984).  The subtractive expectancy placebo procedure: a measure of nonspecific factors in behavioural interventions.  Behaviour Research and Therapy 22, 159–164.

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