What is the Placebo Effect?
An area that has interested me for a long time is the placebo effect. Medically, a placebo is an inert substance that is administered to a person. The person's own beliefs that the substance is effective cause changes in their body to occur.
In broader terms, a placebo would be any activity or substance that has no known correlation with changes in a desired direction. Receipt of the placebo is correlated with desired changes in the recipient's mind or body.
The Incidence of the Placebo Effect
Much of the design of medical research is an attempt to tease out the difference between the placebo effect and the physiological effectiveness of the drug or procedure being tested.
I often wonder why we don't do more research to make placebos more effective. It is said that generally an average of 30 - 35 % of individuals administered a placebo show improvement for the condition they are being treated for. If there is one thing that the placebo effect shows, it is that the human body and mind have an amazing potential for self-healing and growth. If this potential for healing and growth is present in a third of the population, it is present in all of us. The question is how to call it out.
EFT and the Placebo Effect
An example is EFT. A friend of mine, Michael Weir, recently sent me a link to a video on EFT (emotional freedom technique). I've heard the term before, but always let it go at that, so I did a little research on it. EFT Therapy has a good introduction to EFT (though accompanied by some irritating ads), from which you can learn to use the technique for yourself.
EFT models emotional states as causing changes in the energy body that mediates between the mind and physical body. The basic technique of EFT is relatively straightforward. You tap on specific acupuncture points to rebalance the meridians of the energy body while using self-talk regarding the physical or emotional issue you are working on and a resolve to let it go.
Wikipedia details some research that has been done on EFT. A major part of EFT is tapping on certain acupuncture points in a specific order. In one study, participants who experienced specific phobias and fears were divided into four groups.
- One group used EFT.
- One group tapped on sham points.
- One group tapped on a doll.
- A fourth group received no treatment.
The self-talk used in the first three groups was similar. They all showed some improvement, but there was no meaningful difference in how much improvement they showed. This tends to show that, while EFT can be effective, it's effectiveness isn't related to tapping on specific acupuncture points.
Note that this work doesn't show that EFT is ineffective. Quite the contrary. All of the groups that used EFT or the variant tapping showed improvement, while the group that received no treatment showed no improvement. The only difference between the groups that showed improvement was where they tapped. The self-talk involved was the same for all three groups. This research appears to show that the model used by EFT is inaccurate. Direct action on the energy body is apparently not necessary and is, it appears, a placebo, while the real work is being done in the restructuring of thoughts that accompanies the self-talk that is a part of EFT. I hope there is further research utilizing a fifth group, in which the members using all of the processes of EFT without any form of tapping.
Self-Talk in EFT
There are three main types of self-talk used in EFT
- The setup phrase. This embodies the definition of the difficulty you are working with, and the acceptance that, even though you have a difficulty, you still accept yourself. It can be set up in a form similar to Even though I have this roaring headache, I completely and unconditionally accept myself. The setup phrase should define the problem as sharply as possible. It is repeated a few times while rubbing one of the acupuncture points before you begin tapping, then it is repeated at the end of the main tapping whil tapping on a different point.
- The reminder phrase. This is a short phrase embodying the difficulty. Following the above example, you could use roaring headache. This phrase is repeated as you tap.
- The release phrase. With this phrase, you let go of the pain or the person you see as the source of your emotional distress. Following the example, it can have a form like Even though the headache is painful, I completely and unconditionally accept myself. I choose to forgive myself, and I let the headache go. This is repeated after the second use of the setup phrase.
There is a form of progressive relaxation in which you first purposely intensify the tension in a muscle group to get the feel of what the tension feels like, then suddenly release the tension. As a result of this tension-release, the muscles become more relaxed than they would with the beginning tension. The effect of the phrases appears to be similar. You focus on the emotional or physical pain as emodied in your setup and reminder phrases, then release it in the release phrase.
Should You Use EFT?
Will I ever use EFT? I don't know. It's effectiveness, and it does appear to be effective for a large number of people, appears to reside more in the belief work that it embodies than in the work with the acupuncture points. It does appear to need a new model.
Should you try EFT? That's up to you. As I said, it does appear to be effective for a large number of people. If you don't try it, you don't know if it will help you.
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