Here’s the problem: Ninety-nice percept of healing is a placebo.
The “moron” part of the blog title is what I remember being called by the founder of an international healing technique. (She may have said “idiot.” I did my best to let go of it.) I’ve written about this before, but it came up again today when a reader asked me how I could say that a healing technique was a placebo given that it “works” for him. (My reply listed lots of good scientific studies, it’s worth reading it at the bottom of this page.)
It’s both new healing students and experienced teachers that get this all wrong. They don’t understand the placebo effect and as a result they don’t understand the meaning of the word “works.”
Of course healings “work” – if by that you mean that some people get better. Of course placebos work – it’s well known lots of people given the sugar pill will heal. But what does it mean to say that something really works?
What does “works” really mean?
The problem is that “works” is a subjective concept (whether it works depends on what I want and how I feel about it). It’s also a statistical concept (whether it works depends on following a lot of people over a long period of time).
So how do I define the word “works”? Well in relation to healing (including Allopathic medicine), the word “works” has a fairly precise meaning. For instance a pharmaceutical drug isn’t approved unless the manufacturer can show that it is more effective than a sugar pill placebo. If you give a sugar pill to your cancer patient and 20% of people heal because they believe in it, then the real drug has to heal more than 20% of people before you can say that the drug “works.” If the drug heals 15% of people, it’s still great for those people, but you cannot say that the drug works.
What’s more, even if the drug is better than a placebo, doctors want to know if it “works” better than all the other drugs out there. Suppose the existing drug for high blood pressure has a success rate of 50% (against a placebo effect of 30%). If I invent a new drug that works on 45% of people, it’s better than a placebo, but does it really work? No, not really.
So ladies and gentlemen, my definition of “works” is this: a treatment works if it’s more effective than a placebo AND better than the alternative treatment.
What’s this got to do with alternative healing?
Back to the teacher who sent me the aggressive email. She asked how stupid could I be not to see that XX healing works? In her mind, the fact that just one person was healed of something like cancer meant that XX works. I can certainly see her point of view. It’s not so much that we disagree but that we have a different definition of “works.”
So does healing work?
Let’s start with something pretty obvious. I think every healing technique can point to at least one success story. They have to, I mean that’s where healing techniques start from in the first place. So the question is “Is it enough that some people healed, or do I want to know overall percentages?”
If you are with me then hopefully you’ll agree that we need percentages. Back to the lady who sent me the angry email. She claims to have had over 30,000 clients and has a few testimonials saying “she healed my cancer.” But if the technique worked, wouldn’t there be thousands of testimonials? Even a sugar pill placebo can usually help 20-30% (that would be up to 9,000 of her clients). To say that something works, I’d want to see evidence of 10-15,000 of these instant healings. Needless to say, that evidence doesn’t exist. If it did, the entire world would know about that therapy.
So you see the problem wasn’t the therapy, but rather our definition of the word “works.” Her definition was different to mine by a factor of about 1,000. She was right – her technique did work (for 10 or 100 people) and I was right because it did not work for 1,000 people, let alone 10%. We were both right, but the definition was wrong!
What does this mean for you?
This information is vitally important for you as a consumer. For example one of the worst culprits of this “works” scandal is the network marketing industry. There’s always a hot new designer supplement. You’ll hear about how person X experienced a miraculous healing, and on the basis of that you’ll be asked to part with your hard-earned cash. But does it really work? In almost all cases, independent analysis of network marketing supplements suggests the answer is “no.” Most of the products help (they are supplements) but offer little or no added value over the much cheaper alternatives.
The same applies to the next healing workshop you are considering investing in, or the next therapy session. Will some lucky souls experience a breakthrough? I’m sure of it. Will you? It is statistically unlikely. It’s like the lottery –someone is going to win money, but it is still irrational to try.
What can you do about this?
Be a smart consumer. Ask a therapist or teacher about realistic meaningful results. Ask to speak to people who have done the course, and then ask them about how everyone else on the course went. Try to ascertain what percentage of people got the claimed results.
In theory all practitioners should keep a track record of their success rates. In practice almost none do. One reason is that it is hard to keep up with all ex-clients. I found a way though – offer a money back guarantee. By offering to refund unhappy clients, you make sure you know about them. That way you can continually strive to reach that 100% goal.
With our work, RPT, we are sitting on a success rate above 80%, I think it’s about 90%. Whilst that’s not perfect, it’s much higher than pure chance and at least 5 times higher than any other healing technique that has been scientifically tested.
The purpose of today’s blog was to educate smart consumers of healing. When you read about healing claims ask “would this apply to me?” Ask “how many people get these results?” And more than anything, be a smart consumer. All of those questions should be asked to RPT, and the right teacher for you is the one who can answer them.
I look forward to hearing your comments
PS Newer visitors to this blog might like to read some of my other detailed papers about the placebo effect. Please click here and see the more detailed article in the PDF link at the bottom.