From Medicine to Psychotherapy: The Placebo Effect
History of the human sciences 2011; 24(1): 95-107
If placebos have been squeezed out of medicine to the point where their official place in in clinical trials designed to identify their own confounding effect, the placebo effect nevertheless thrives in psychotherapy. Not only does psychotherapy dispose of placebo effects that are less available to medicine as it becomes increasingly technological and preoccupied with body parts, but factors of the sort inhibiting the use of placebos in medicine have no equivalent in psychology. Medicine today is disturbed by the placebo effect in a way psychotherapy is not. Psychotherapy does not have to grapple with such a disconcerting paradox as successful sham surgery, and unlike those physicians who once pretended to treat the patient's body while actually attempting to treat the mind, the psychotherapist can treat the mind in all frankness. Perhaps it is because psychotherapy is less burdened by doubts about the placebo effect that it was able to come to its aid when it was orphaned by medicine. It is vain to expect something with so long a history as the placebo effect to disappear from the practices of healing.