Placebos In The News


A study that will appear in European Neuropsychopharmacology found that “the brain’s response to the placebo pill seems to depend … on whether or not the brain has ever ‘seen’ antidepressant medication before.” Similarly, an article in Medical Hypotheses proposes an approach that capitalizes on a “personal (as opposed to superficial or impersonal) encounter between helper and helpee” to potentiate the placebo response. A study in Schizophrenia Research investigates whether interventions can adequately identify and prevent relapse in placebo arms of trials and finds that, though relapse cannot be adequately identified or prevented, this fact is equally true for both placebo and continuous-treatment arms of trials and the longer-term recovery outcomes following relapse in both treatment and placebo conditions justify continued placebo trials.
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Note from Kermit Cole, Resources Editor:

The study in European Neuropsychopharmacology is interesting for its exploration of the role of classical conditioning in the placebo response.  Having experienced the effects of an antidepressant, a study subject then given placebo may be more attentive to cues (the act of taking a pill, being in a clinical environment, interacting with medical personnel) that enhance the placebo effect. Though interesting in its hypothesis, this study is limited in its design, but  further study of the role that prior experience with drug-taking plays in the placebo response seems warranted.

Placebo studies in general are very problematic, with many variations (treatment-withdrawal misidentified as placebo, for instance) confounding a true understanding of what was discovered. But with a growing awareness of the strength of the placebo relative to “treatment” response, more research seems warranted and appears to be underway.



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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].