Sunday, December 23, 2012


In the car on the way to the family Christmas gathering, Jeff read to us about a series of studies on placebos. For some conditions, placebos can give significant relief. There's still an effect even when subjects are told "You are taking an inert pill" and given a bottle marked "Placebo." Placebos given by providers who spend more time schmoozing with patients create more relief. (Note that I haven't found the actual studies concerned, so I don't know the effect sizes, etc.)

The three healthcare workers in the car were interested in this. Jeff's mother, the midwife, said that projecting the right comforting image is a large part of her practice. (The innovation I find most interesting in childbirth is encouraging women to believe "this is something my body is capable of" rather than "this is a scary and painful medical emergency." Stress has real physiological effects, and reducing stress can make birth physically easier.) Jeff's father confirmed that making an optimistic forecast is a big part of his psychotherapy practice, too.

Then when we arrived, my mother reported that she is not losing her mind, as she feared. She realized that for an unknown period of time she had loaded her pillbox with calcium tablets instead of her actual medication.

Apparently the day's lesson is that placebos can help you with some things, but sometimes you really should just take your medication.

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