Saturday, May 2, 2015

Placebo + Nocebo ≠ Healing

by Tom Taffel

If you are familiar with the placebo effect, (from the Latin: “I will please”), you may find it even more useful to know about the pernicious nocebo effect, meaning: “I will harm.”  It would make one worse rather than better – based on mere expectation alone.  We can see these phases of mortal mind as powerless and implausible when viewed through the lens of Truth.
Over one hundred years ago, the placebo and nocebo reactions were unveiled by Mary Baker Eddy.  She termed them “aggressive mental suggestion,” a subterfuge that would pose impediments to spiritual healing.

In her textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mrs. Eddy gives a clear example of the nocebo effect:  “A man was made to believe that he occupied a bed where a cholera patient had died.  Immediately the symptoms of this disease appeared and the man died.  The fact was, that he had not caught the cholera by material contact, because no cholera patient had been in that bed.” (Science and Health  154:10).   Fast forward to 1961, when the term “Nocebo Reaction” was introduced to the medical profession by physician Walter P. Kennedy. (“The Nocebo Reaction,” Medical World, Vol. 95, September 1961, p. 203-205). 

The placebo is deception based on hopeful expectation, (commonly in the form of an un-medicated sugar pill), whereas the nocebo - the placebo’s opposite - is a negative suggestion, which directly or indirectly, audibly or inaudibly, consciously or unconsciously, implants into consciousness a negative, fearful expectation based on erroneous beliefs arousing fear.

I first became aware of the insidious nature of what today we call the nocebo effect in 1968.  Each night the evening news reported an ever-growing number of New York City police officers, who, in protest over their inability to go on strike, aroused public attention by calling in sick with a catchy illness, previously unknown in New York City.  Thus began the Hong Kong Influenza Pandemic in the United States. I needed to stay alert to the media’s nocebo suggestion and see it for what it was: a hoax.

In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy states: “The press unwittingly sends forth many sorrows and diseases among the human family.  It does this by giving names to diseases and by printing long descriptions which mirror images of disease distinctly in thought.  A new name for an ailment affects people like a Parisian name for a novel garment.  Every one hastens to get it.” (Science and Health  196:31-5).   I was alert to the deceptive suggestions of the nocebo message, and held firmly to Mrs. Eddy’s reassuring admonition:  “Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts.” (Science and Health  261:4). 

If the nocebo is the evil twin, the dark shadow side of the placebo – nothing but a negative suggestion of mortal mind, then its so-called power is no more real, substantial or fearsome than a shadow.  Isn’t it reassuring to realize that the light of Truth eliminates darkness instantly, completely, without debate, struggle, processing or consideration of its history?

We are constantly bombarded with negative suggestions.  Television commercials send nocebo messages designed to implant images of sickness and fear in consciousness.  These deceitful messages can be personal or impersonal, present or future, and are not necessarily dependent on our conscious awareness.

Advertisements broadcast and published over and over condition us to accept into consciousness nocebo messages such as: our hair will turn gray, our eye sight dim, our memory fail, our bones become brittle, and our hearing diminish.  “Stand porter at the door of thought,” Mrs. Eddy advises. “Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously.   When the condition is present which you say induces disease, whether it be: air, exercise, heredity, contagion, or accident, then perform your office as porter and shut out these unhealthy thoughts and fears.  Exclude from mortal mind the offending errors; then the body cannot suffer from them.” (Science and Health  392:24-32). 

Standing porter at the door of thought alerts us to see how mortal mind’s “Catch 22” plays out in the market place.  As the public demands truthfulness and transparency, full disclosure as to adverse side effects and negative symptoms that medical compounds may cause, produces a type of “hypervigilance” reinforcing the nocebo effect.  By revealing warnings of all the possible side effects, we see a surge of complications and reactions which the warnings have produced.

We have a choice between taking in dark nocebo thoughts or rejecting them and affirming the ever present light of Life, Truth and Love.  To which voice are we listening?  – the barrage of subliminal deceptive messages of public media, or the calm, exalted thoughts of the healing Christ which uplift and sustain us in peace and harmony?

The task of overcoming evil can confidently be left to the power of the Christ, Truth.  When we welcome God’s truth into thought, it purifies and heals.  Truth lifts and transforms all aspects of our lives, gently, peacefully and with assurance.  Here’s a good litmus test to see if we are being swayed by mortal mind or guided by Divine Mind: God’s loving direction always leads in the direction of peace. Our consciousness of God’s presence and government protects us from the most subtle nocebo messages and their intended consequences.

To summarize, the nocebo effect is nothing more than a negative suggestion which argues for acceptance on either a conscious or an unconscious level.  Its antidote is the conscious awareness of God’s presence and power to destroy anything that is not true about His creation.  Through prayer we nurture receptivity to God’s prompting in every situation.  This divine influence is the presence of the healing Christ, always active in consciousness to disarm and nullify the nocebo and the placebo effects, thus promoting and maintaining our mental and physical well-being, success and happiness.

Truth unmasks, annuls and heals the nocebo’s harmful claims as well as the hoped-for, false expectations of the placebo, enabling God’s messages to govern our lives harmoniously in peace, with confidence and joyous expectation of good.

Tom Taffel will be speaking at the 30th annual Emergence International Conference in St. Louis: October 2, 3, 4, 2015.  He will sharing his latest article, (submitted to the C.S.P.S.): “Coming Out For Good” - his personal life-struggle and ultimate conquest.  Tom was completely alone as a gay student of Christian Scientist with only two choices: suicide or God.  Thankfully, God was victorious…and his story of survival and achievement, in an unaccepting world is remarkable…(but  too soon to be published).  Tom has spoken at many Christian Science gatherings throughout the United States, and lectured on the early poems of Mary Baker Eddy.  His articles and lectures have been published in fourteen religious publications, including the Christian Science “Journal” and “Sentinel,” as well as granted a special Deed of Gift and Copyright License Agreement – The First Church of Christ, Scientist.

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