Are the positive results many people claim from alternative therapies really just because of the placebo effect? I doubt it but even if it were, wouldn’t that be great? No list of horrifying side effects, drug precautions, interactions, etc. If we have the power within us, through our beliefs, to heal some things, accept others, and generally feel better and less stressed, why not use it?
If the energy of stress can manifest into disease, then what is the opposite of the energy of stress? The answer should point to a “cure” or at least a preventative measure. Might it not be that faith and a positive attitude could be an antidote to our habits of creating stress with our thoughts–worrying, ruminating, and creating negative self-fulfilling prophecies? Maybe faith is just the other half of the stress coin.
Unfortunately, once stress has “hardened” into a disease or disorder, it can be more difficult to treat. Undoing the effect of the energy of stress once it has manifested in physical form is much more difficult than prevention. (This is true no matter what type of medicine you believe to be effective.) Insurance companies are no mystics but utter pragmatists. Many of them are now paying for preventative care; health clubs, massages, and alternative/holistic treatments. This is because prevention of disease is possible and greatly increases their profits.
Prevention is primary But what if (like many of us) something has already gone wrong? Traditional medicine has some amazing tools and interventions. These should be used as needed. But know that even with the most cutting edge medicine available, we can help or impede the healing process with our minds and thoughts, diets, lifestyle, etc.
There is an optimal state for healing to occur and that is–you guessed it–relaxed and with a positive attitude. If you find a place or therapy that makes you feel calmer, more optimistic about the outcome of the issue at hand, offers support, makes you feel less alone, and looks at the big picture of how the treatment may be affecting other aspects of your life, then by all means stick with it as all of these things are correlated with healing and positive outcomes from surgery and disease.
Furthermore, a holistic practitioner may be able to help with some of the secondary effects of treatments that might be necessary but create other problems for your system. An example would be to work with the side effects of antibiotics, chemotherapy, surgery, etc. as well as how the illness, injury or disease affects your life, self-image, relationships, diet, ability to exercise, and overall health.
We don’t know really know all that much about the body and how it heals itself. We do know that healing comes from within. Doctors can’t make a wound seal itself. They can help keep infection out and create the best sanitary circumstances but at some point, your own immune system, blood, tissue, etc. must take over. We have a huge relationship to our own healing process and this has to do with attitude, energy, belief, diet, lifestyle, mood, emotions, faith, etc.
Faith is a factor in any form of treatment. It’s why doctors wear lab coats or at least dress up instead adorning themselves like rock stars. It’s why they tend to have rather impersonal offices with their degrees on the wall. There is an image that gives credibility to their practice and that image is important to faith in the doctor and the prescribed treatment. (It may also be why so many physicians adopt a superior attitude that belittles the patient, but that’s another topic.)
Image matters. Faith matters. What you believe will help has a greater power to help–even if that thing is a sugar pill. Pharmacies have to spend billions of dollars isolating the placebo effect from their studies. It occurs consistently with medications, even for the most serious medical conditions. That is one aspect of the placebo effect but the other is illustrated by those same pharmaceutical companies, after isolating the placebo effect from their studies, using it in their advertising.
If medicine is really about a doctor prescribing the best course of treatment for a particular ailment, what place do pharmaceutical advertisements directed at the general public have? If the ad is not a placebo, what is the idea of showing happy, frolicking, clear-skinned, relaxed, recovered, recuperated, healthy, horny, well-medicated people. Ask your doctor about… pharmaceutical advertising!
“That depressed person is happy now. I’ll have what she’s having.” If these ads are not a placebo, I don’t know what is. Your image of the happy, healthy people gets associated with the drug, prompting you to request it (in essence, prescribe it for yourself) and while you take it, you have in the back of your mind the faith that you will be one of those happy, healthy people.
So which is working, the drug or your idea of the drug gleaned from a very costly advertisement? No one will ever know but look around at the billions spent in drug advertising and you will see that these companies are placing far more money into getting you to request their drugs based on images of hope than on research into their efficacy. Why not advertise statistics of success in treatment rather than images of hope?
In traditional medicine, there really may be one best option for treatment but anyone who has ever had a major medical decision to make and looked for second or third opinions probably found a variety of options. The surgeon most likely prescribed surgery, the chemotherapy specialist; chemotherapy, the radiologist: radiation, etc. And how does one choose? Hopefully with good information and taking into account how various treatments (all other things being equal) will affect your own lifestyle, attitude, outcome, ability to recuperate and tolerate the treatment. But often it is the advice of the most certain and persuasive physician that is taken. Because we have faith in their certainty or the form of treatment they offer.
I really could go on but will stop here for the day. Suffice it to say, I believe all types of medicine are endowed with our faith and that this is not necessarily a problem but something which we can use knowingly and wisely. Faith has a role in all types of healing and treatment and is related to positive outcome. So why not use this faith and the placebo effect to our benefit?
This is just a minuscule sample of some of the most popular types of energy-based healing modalities. There are many, many more variations with ancient traditions behind them, as well as new forms being developed using the latest science and technology. All of these techniques have in common the notion of a universal life force that supports health and well-being when balanced and flowing freely. Disease and disorder arise when the energy flow is blocked, impeded or altered in some way.
Although the fine details of various traditions differ, the general concept of health and dis-ease as related to energy (chi, ki, life force, etc.) and the treatment aimed at balancing and freeing the flow of energy are similar. Here is but a tiny taste of some of these healing forms.
Reiki (pronounced ray-key) is a form of subtle energy healing that centers on the manipulation of ki, the Japanese version of chi. The word “reiki” is derived from two Japanese words: rei (meaning: ghost, spirit, soul, supernatural, miraculous, divine), and ki, (meaning: spiritual energy, vital energy , life force, energy of life). The western translation used by The International Center for Reiki Training is “spiritually guided life force energy.”
As most commonly practiced, reiki involves channeling of the ki through the practitioners hands, either lightly touching or slightly above the body. There is a traditional sequence of hand positions that may be followed. The practitioner will also generally scan above and around the body to assess for areas that need attention.
Reiki is very gentle, non-invasive, and can be used in many cases where massage or other more physical forms of healing therapy are contraindicated (cancer patients, burn victims, severe varicose veins, osteoporosis, etc.) Although reiki is of Japanese origin, many of the hand positions correspond to the chakras described in Ayurvedic medicine.
The experience of a reiki session is generally very peaceful, soothing, nurturing and renewing. There are no harsh movements or deep pressure techniques. The touch, when used, is light to firmly supportive and no pressure is placed on joints, injuries, wounds or sensitive areas.
Distance reiki is also practiced and is very similar to “focused prayer.” The practitioner sends the energy of healing to the person wherever they are. While this may sound like a “long shot,” the effects of prayer and distance healing are being studied scientifically and are not beyond the realm of possibility given what we now know of quantum mechanics. (More on this later.)
Polarity Therapy was developed by Dr. Randolph Stone and is a form of healing that directly addresses the energetic system of the whole person, taking into account environment, diet, relationships, mental health, past traumas, spirituality, patterns of stress, etc. Polarity is based on ayurvedic principles and involves five elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth), energetic pathways, and transferring of energy through positive, negative and neutral currents through the practitioner’s hands.
A Polarity session usually involves relaxation of the central nervous system through use of touch concentrated on specific parts of the body (i.e. scalp, neck, shoulders, feet, spine) and touching of points along pathways that run the length of the body (usually feet to face), side to side contact along the body, and balancing touch in the mid to upper part of the body (chakras) with areas of focus as needed. Sessions may also involve the use of crystals, breath, sound, and reflexology.
Polarity contact ranges from purely energetic (no physical touch) to deep pressure and can involve stretching, rocking, gentle pulling, quick movements or still holding of points. Although some points that need attention may be tender, pain is usually not part of a session. Most people tend to find Polarity to be relaxing, energizing, clearing and balancing. It can work on physical as well as very deep emotional and spiritual issues but is always very gentle and focused on release, balance and restoring health and well-being on all levels.
Acupressure is a system of energy healing that is based upon the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is intended to balance and release the flow of qi (chi) through manual stimulation of acupoints that run along pathways of the body (meridians). The meridians are associated with organs and systems within the body and have correlating energy characteristics related to five elements (earth, fire, water, metal, wood).
The acupoints and meridians used in acupressure are the same as those used in acupuncture but acupuncture employs needles, while acupressure uses gentle to firm hand/finger pressure to stimulate points. The aim in acupressure is to restore the balance of yin and yang and to enhance or repair the flow of chi (universal life force) throughout the body, thereby bringing about relief, restoring health, and optimizing wellness by stimulating the body’s own natural self-curative abilities.
TCM actually refers to an extensive system of health care and maintenance that involves diet, herbs, bodywork, meditation, environment, etc. and has many different offshoots and bodywork practices such as feng shui, Tai Chi, qigong, and cupping, all centered around the notion of balancing yin/yang and harmonizing chi.
Overview: The traditions and philosophies behind all of these disciplines are very detailed and complex when properly studied. Each has a strong cultural component from which the specifics were derived yet the basic premises can be compared in their relationship to energy and goals of treatment. What is most interesting to me is that many people report being helped by these forms without understanding or subscribing to the belief systems behind the work. There may be a vague notion that the practitioner is working with chi (or something) but the specifics of the treatment remain vague to most clients. All they know is that they feel better and that, as you will have surmised, is what I believe to be the bottom line.
In energy healing the flow and balance of energy in and through the human body is considered to be the foundation of good health. When energy is unbalanced, blocked or stuck in a fixed pattern, pain and disease arise. Energetic blockages are considered to precede disease or discomfort in the body and generally manifest in sequence from the subtle (energetic) to the dense (physical) levels of the field.
The therapist or healer seeks to find the blockages and release energy to normal flow patterns, and to maintain the energy field in an open, flexible condition, working with and strengthening the healing powers within the client. Since the energetic disturbance is seen to originate first, the idea is to work with the energy before it creates a disease or disturbance in the body.
One common example of this type of energetic to physical manifestation is stress. If stress, which begins as an experience or thought, can create an ulcer, backache, migraine, skin condition, stroke or cardiac arrest (by no means a comprehensive list), then the energy of stress precedes its physical manifestation.
Energy healing works not only on the physical manifestation in the body but also with the forces that create the physical disturbances. The aim is to remove blockages that cause the energy to “puddle” in our systems so that it flows freely and is unblocked at subtler levels.
Energy fields and currents exist everywhere in nature.The human body produces electrical fields, such as those detected by electrocardiograms (EKGs) and electroencephalograms (EEGs). Our muscles move and our hearts beat because of electrical impulses. We use electric shock to restart hearts as a lifesaving practice. The human body also produces radio-frequency radiation (called black body radiation). We have magnetic properties as well: MRI’s magnetize atoms in our bodies to create the images now common in hospitals and clinics. Depression is now being treated with magnets in clinical trials. Conventional medicine frequently utilizes infrared and ultraviolet light as well as lasers. All of these currents, fields, wavelengths and “colors” (invisible to our eyes) are being used routinely to view, assess and treat our bodies in traditional medical settings. And all of them were “invisible” and unverifiable scientifically until modern times.
While the exact mechanisms involving touch and energy healing can not yet be proven, we do know that touch has power: the effects of touch have been described and researched. Infants deprived of touch fail to thrive and can even die. Energy healing is a bit more controversial. I can not prove to you that it works or has any benefit other than that described empirically by the growing number of people who have found relief, help and positive results from it.
Skeptics might say this is a placebo effect. Far from being a contradiction or devaluing of this type of work, to me, that only affirms it. If we have the ability to produce healing effects based on our beliefs, isn’t that an amazing power that should be studied and tapped rather than conducting rigorous studies to rule out this effect so the drug (with a staggering list of side-effects) can be prescribed instead? I would choose the placebo (which is a power of the mind/body/spirit) over a toxic drug any day.
This leads another point: In my opinion, it matters less which form of healing treatment one chooses. The important thing is that you find benefit and relief. I am biased in that I feel the best success we can have in response to any illness, injury, mental distress, etc. is if we activate our own healing from within, no matter what other types of interventions and treatments are used.
Cancer treatment is an example of this: While radiation and chemotherapy are used to save lives, most state of the art facilities also offer alternative therapies such as massage, reiki, support groups, visualization, spiritual counseling, etc. because the power of the mind/spirit and the comfort of support have been clinically proven to improve prognosis. Faith does work and far from being derogatory, I believe our beliefs should be harnessed for our greater good and wellness.
What you believe will help you has a much greater potential to help you than that in which you have no faith. This is true no matter what methods are used, from the most conventional to the most esoteric. That being said, I have also observed people report benefit from energy work and holistic practices even when they are skeptical or when they don’t quite know what to make of it. There seem to be effects that do in fact go beyond faith and have just not yet been proven by science.
Most holistic practitioners will not try to change your mind or your beliefs. They will share their beliefs and techniques while encouraging you to make up your own mind/body/spirit about what is right for you. You are, in fact, the expert and authority on your own experience. And the more experience you have, the better you will be able to determine what is right for you, which is in the end, the ultimate goal. I guess I define efficacy as “what works” so however you get there, whatever works for you, use it to create wellness in your life. We can do so much more than just survive—we truly can thrive, even (and sometimes especially) in difficult times and circumstances.
I believe that the body does have an amazing capacity to heal itself and that no matter what the diagnosis or treatment (conventional or alternative), we will fare well to nurture, encourage and enhance that innate wisdom (or biological process, if you will) through whatever means is effective for us, based on our own empirical observations, beliefs, preferences and experience.