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Optimizing the Healing Potential

by Mary Martin(more info)

listed in complementary medicine, originally published in issue 141 - November 2007

The state of mind has a powerful effect on the body, the placebo effect being a prime example. It can override psychological and physical conditions. Applying a sham technique or giving a dummy drug is often sufficient to trigger a healing response in the body. Research shows an average placebo response in 35% of patients. Every kind of therapeutic treatment has a placebo component that plays a significant role in optimizing a patient’s self-healing ability. The expectation of being healed is a powerful force.


At the 5th Complementary Health Symposium in Exeter 1998, Dr Michael Dixon, a GP, presented a report into spiritual healing. This research was scientifically controlled. All patients involved in the study had been chronically ill for an average of five years. None of them had been previously helped by either conventional or complementary medicine.

This research resulted in improvement in 80% of the study patients, with 50% showing significant improvement. The control patients showed no improvement. Were the results due to the placebo effect or a supernatural force? In any event, one person catalyzed a healing response in these patients where others had failed.

Practitioner-Patient Interaction

The placebo effect is most powerful in the following situations:
  • When the patient expects it to work;
  • When the practitioner expects it to work;
  • When it is administered by someone viewed as high status by the Patient;
  • When it appears to be a credible treatment (Richardson 1989).
This demonstrates the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient. The motivation and understanding of any practitioner is an intrinsic part of the healing process. A genuine belief in their treatment and the way they present it also catalyzes belief in patients.

“The placebo effect is the strongest, the most comprehensive and the most proven medicine available to GPs.” This quotation is from the book, The Human Effect in Medicine, written by two GPs. The relevance of this is largely overlooked by much of the medical profession because of their over-reliance on technologically based medicine. The average consultation with a GP lasts less than ten minutes – leaving no time for effective therapeutic relationships. However, there are other excellent books available on mind-body medicine and related subjects, which are written by medical doctors.


A positive frame of mind is therapeutic because it helps shape outcomes. Consulting a therapist who is highly recommended enhances a person’s belief that their treatment will work. The healing potential is greatly improved when both practitioner and patient believe the treatment will work.

Conversely, it has been shown that if a practitioner loses respect for a patient, this will be transmitted to them. The patient then loses belief in the practitioner and the treatment has been shown to be less effective. Studies also indicate that when the health and wellbeing of a practitioner is diminished, treatment is less effective.

Some patients have a low expectation of the therapy working because they were goaded into it. This requires a sympathetic attitude and time for discussion. Invariably, expectations are changed and positive results follow.


Relaxation creates a sense of psychological wellbeing. It affects the whole body – reducing blood pressure and pulse rate. It relaxes muscles and dilates coronary arteries. It boosts immunity and can ease pain.

Negative thoughts, such as anxiety, fear or anger, can obstruct the healing process. Putting patients at ease during a consultation makes them feel less stressed. Providing clear information about a therapy and any possible reactions helps allay any fears. Paying attention to what patients communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, releases stress. If patients feel relaxed they will be more receptive to any therapeutic treatment.

Care and Attention

Patients complain about a lack of care in orthodox medicine, which is often mechanistic. At the heart of complementary medicine is the patient-centred approach. This is built on trust so that patients feel secure and at ease within the therapeutic setting. There needs to be empathy and respect between practitioner and patient. Providing moral support encourages patients to make the necessary changes in their lives and to accept what cannot be changed. Empowering patients to take better control over their health can boost their confidence and self-esteem.

The Art of Healing

The art of healing involves more than an effective technique. The human effect in any therapeutic treatment is crucial to the healing process. This is not hocus-pocus; there is plenty of evidence to support it. The body has amazing self-healing mechanisms that are influenced by the mind. Working from a holistic perspective introduces skills that optimize patients’ healing potential in such a way.


Dixon M Dr and Sweeney K Dr. The Human Effect in Medicine. Radcliffe Medical Press. 2000.


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About Mary Martin

A qualified teacher, Mary Martin established her School of Reflexology in 1987. She founded the Association of Reflexologists in 1984 and is an Honorary Life Member. Previously she practised as a Gerson therapist. Mary belongs to a network of therapists attached to the cancer centre at Mount Vernon Hospital. She has had a busy practice in Ruislip since 1983. She may be contacted on Tel: 01895 635621;


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