Meaning Of Placebo Effect

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In order to answer this question we will take a look at the meaning of ‘placebo’ and ‘placebo effect’, along with it’s historic and changing connotations. Once we have established how we should define the power of ‘placebo’ we will explore it’s use in herbal medicine, both in some traditional systems of herbal medicine and modern Western herbal medicine. We will conclude by considering to what extent ‘placebo’ is useful in modern Western herbal medicine.

It has been suggested that the derivation and definition of the word ‘placebo’ implies disreputable trickery on the part of the practitioner when it comes to the treatment of patients (p.78 Mitchell and Cormack 1998) . Furthermore, the current NHS guidelines when discussing ‘ The placebo
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(Harvard 2017)

The Harvard article (2017) goes on to explain that placebos work by activating complex neurobiological reactions which include many things such as increases in neurotransmitters, like endorphins and dopamine in certain brain regions linked to moods and emotional reactions, which has a therapeutic effect, and cites Prof. Kaptchuk: “…placebo effect is a way for your brain to tell the body what it needs to feel better,” and links this with the ritual of treatment.

Miller et al (2009) submit that the placebo effect within health care should be seen as a generic name for various diverse mechanisms occurring in the healing process, including response expectancies and release of various endogenous mediators, as well as the response to interpersonal healing, ie, the relationship between the patient and the practitioner and although the placebo effect differs from technological healing and natural healing it potentiates these other
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(p80 Mitchell and Cormack 1998)

To conclude, it appears that the connotations of the term placebo are in flux, with science now recognising placebo as a valuable and distinct part of the healing process. Modern Western herbal medicine can not be seen as purely placebo as there is now sound evidence based research to back up medical claims but the placebo effect can be seen as a valuable part of the healing experience.
A therapeutic alliance, based on listening, empathy, reassurance, and therapeutic optimism, constitutes good clinical practice…
Promoting the placebo response is not the same as merely trying to please the patient. To be sure, there may be situations in which it is appropriate to satisfy patient expectations of receiving a medicinal treatment and thus to support the physician-patient relationship. (Miller et al
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