Monday, February 11, 2008

Therapy that doesn't work often works

That's the conclusion I have drawn some time ago. It is the paradox of many treatments be it behavioural therapy or medication. Science tells us that the vast majority of alternative medicine does not work, except acupuncture. Nevertheless, many patients claim that such treatments worked for them. How is this apparent paradox possible? One word: placebo! If you give someone pill that contains no active compound like sugar, called a placebo (pill), and say that it works, it will actually work. OK. Maybe not cure the person but definitely show an improvement though often not very long lived. The key to understand this paradox is in the way that science defines how a treatment "does not work". Scientists ask the question: Is the treatment advocated better than no treatment or a placebo pill? If not, it does not work. It is a relative statement: it doesn't work better than a placebo pill. However, a person taking the treatment will experience an absolute improvement. He or she doesn't split into two: his clone A taking the treatment and clone B taking the placebo. So he will witness an improvement not knowing that he would have witnessed the same with a placebo. Of course, if you tell him that the pill doesn't work, it will not work!! So telling him it will work even though it does not work better works. I look at alternative medicine as a way to induce the placebo effect in humans.

This lesson is also very important for stuttering. Any therapy will work for us to some degree, but because it is often placebo it will be short-lived.

You can read about the placebo effect and alternative medicine in an article that Ora has forwarded to me: here.

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