Researchers go to great lengths to prevent the known and mysterious placebo effect. The weird phenomenon that occurs when people gain a benefit from pretend medicine (eg sugar pill). Little is known about the placebo effect - it ought not work - but it does and this is seen as a problem.
The fact that so much effort is required to produce results that cannot be attributed to placebo is a testament to how pervasive the phenomenon is.
New research may have uncovered a cause for this effect. For example, what do the following 'non-treatments' have in common; homeopathy, reiki, snake oil, a doctor prescribed sugar pill? Answer; The treatments don't do anything. However, according to this research, the effect of a person taking a direct empathetic interest in you just might. Human to human help, support and attention has, it seems, a physiologically beneficial effect.
Does this mean throw away your real medicine in favour of tiny bottles of expensive water that comes with high customer care? No, the medicines have a greater effect - proven to go 'above and beyond' the placebo. That's how they become medicines in the first place.
But it does mean we could do more to help each other and that you can seek help from a source that is more likely to make a real difference.
My work for example (exec, leadership and personal coaching) is among the set of "talking therapies" sitting somewhere between counselling, personal coaching and a psychologist [disclaimer: I'm not a psych btw]. In the realm of mental health, talking therapies have been shown to be highly effective. In many contexts as, or more effective than medication alone.
This research suggests that the reason in part could simply be the non-judgmental focus on your well being. I am sure that helps - the freedom people have to voice their thoughts in a safe and relaxed environment really helps, but it goes further. The act of discussing, putting into words, your thoughts, your memories and, in collaboration with a trained coach, re-framing and re-organising conversation helps you create new neural networks - new memory patterns - which in turn lead you to seeing and thinking differently.
Your mind creates your thoughts and experience through accumulated memory patterns applied to sensory stimuli, to create different experiences requires different memory patterns (i.e. a slightly different brain). Talking, externalising and re-framing thoughts is an act of changing your brain - thereby changing your future experience.
Quality coaching feels good in the moment and creates genuine long term change.
My favourite quote from this article is one that we can all relate to and apply to help each other. The placebo effect may simply be the...
*"biological response to an act of caring."*
In which case if proven, it is not longer a placebo - but the outcome of treatment.