Placebo: 5 strategies to increase the effect of your treatment itself

Placebo: 5 strategies to increase the effect of your treatment itself

8 min. reading time


Louis Zantema

5 January 2020

Louis is a GZ-Psychologist with a great passion for gaming. For him, a game training that offers therapy is the most valuable thing you can develop: especially for pain complaints, which are on the interesting intersection of body and mind. His aim is to make himself dispensable as a therapist.

For many of us, it is unreal because what we think and what we feel in our bodies are strongly related. Yet there is now a lot of evidence that what we think and what we expect, (very) has a lot of influence on our body!

The best known example of this is called the 'placebo' effect. A placebo is a medicine (or operation) without active agents. Instead of a person being given a pill with the real substance in it, a person is given a pill with no active ingredients in it. 

As early as 1572 Michel de Montaigne noticed that some people feel better by just looking at a medicine! It took until the middle of 1950 before really good scientific evidence was provided. This proof was found in pain medicine. In a well-known scientific article it was stated that in 35% of the patients with pain complaints a placebo treatment was satisfactory! Since then, this effect has been confirmed time and again. Especially in case of pain!

How does a placebo work?

How can this exist? How a placebo exactly works, is not entirely known and probably also differs from one drug to another, and from one person to another. What we at least know is that our brains can react strongly to a placebo. As a result, the brain itself produces substances that inhibit the feeling of pain.

A good placebo effect increases the positive thoughts and expectations we have. We know that it helps with pain. The brain causes pain when it concludes that there is danger. Positive thoughts and a feeling of control increase the chance that the brain assumes that there is no longer any danger, and thus creates less pain. 

Let the placebo effect work for you too

It is now realised that we can use a lot of information about the placebo effect to increase the success of a treatment. Even if a treatment is 'real', we can still use knowledge of the placebo effect to increase the chance of a treatment succeeding! The development of fixed habits helps to increase the effect. With the tips below you can increase the chance of success of each treatment!

1. Make sure you choose a treatment and/or practitioner you trust. The more trust you have, the greater the chance of a good outcome. Treatment providers who make you feel understood will help you enormously. 

2. Check for yourself whether you feel motivated enough for the treatment. Especially if you are expected to make adjustments in your life, it can be difficult to maintain this for a longer period of time.

3. Keep the number of practitioners limited. Treatment providers who are unclear, who come up with vague diagnoses or who keep coming up with different solutions, often do not work as well. 

4. Develop habits that help you and be consistent in doing so. This does not have to be the case with medication. You can also get up at the same time every day (for example, to meditate, take a walk and drink a cup of coffee). 

5. Read about your treatment or strategy, and why it helps. It is quite difficult to stick to certain habits for a longer period of time. By regularly reading a blog or book on this subject, your brain is reminded of the positive expectations. 

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