Dawna Ara, L.Ac.

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The Power of Belief

Photo by Dede Flemming

When people find out I’m an acupuncturist one of the first things they say to me is whether or not they believe in acupuncture. I often hear people say things like, “Oh fantastic! I’m a real believer in acupuncture!” Or they politely say they think acupuncture is a bunch of hocus pocus hogwash.

Either way, it always brings a smirk to my face because I know whether or not they believe in it, it is still creating change in their body because your subconscious mind, nervous system, and circulatory system are all being stimulated by the needle sensation. But, for those of us who “believe” in it, we may be experiencing more healing benefits than those who don’t.

Ever hear about the Placebo Effect?

A placebo is a medical treatment designed to deceive a patient into thinking they were given a treatment with the intent of treating a certain medical condition. Many times the patient will report that they believe or experience a therapeutic effect or actually have improvement in their medical conditions after taking the placebo. This is called the placebo effect.

When studying and researching the effects of medication on certain diseases such as asthma, depression, anxiety, parkinson’s, etc, a group of people are given a real medication that is expected to have certain chemical outcomes in the body while another group of people are given a fake pill with no medicinal value. As a control, a group of people are given no pills at all. The outcomes of these studies are extremely valuable because they show that for each group, some subjects responded positively to the pill whether it was real or fake, while others did not. In some cases, the placebo scored just as high as the real medication when treating certain medical conditions.

The Nocebo Effect

While some of you may have heard of the placebo effect, less people out there have heard of the nocebo effect. A nocebo is a fake treatment or medication, made out of the exact same substance that a placebo is made out of, only it creates a negative effect in those who take it. This phenomenon is known as the nocebo effect.

Now before you start thinking that I’m calling acupuncture a placebo or nocebo, think again! I am not equating acupuncture with placebo at all. Acupuncture is a real treatment.

But why would those who get the fake treatment get the same results as those getting the real treatment or taking the actual medication? In my opinion, the effects of both real treatments and placebos are in part due to the persons expectations of how the treatment will affect them, not just due to a biological response that is initiated by an actual medication.

In other words, it because they believe they are taking or doing something that is good for them. This concept is extremely important because it means two things: 1. What you believe in influences change in your body and 2. If a fake treatment gives a person relief (placebo) while the exact same fake treatment may create a negative response (nocebo), then this means that the change experienced whether good or bad, from a real treatment or not, may be in part due to the individual’s belief about the treatment.

If one accepts that the act of simply believing creates change, then one has to accept that healing has more to do with our perception of the entire experience than it does with the actual route in which we choose to facilitate it. In other words, the act of healing has more to do with our mind than it does with external factors, whether that external factor is a drug, surgery, hypnosis, yoga, a prayer, supplements, herbs, or the like. It has to do with the individual’s belief that something is working to heal them. In other words, your mind has the power to heal your body.

There are many methods that can help initiate the healing process, but the actual healing is being done by the billions of chemical reactions happening inside their body at any given moment. And your thoughts and your beliefs which are chemical reactions, have control over other chemical reactions in your body.

Now I am not suggesting that the act of believing alone is going to get rid of your health problems, but I am suggesting that allowing yourself to relax and think positively that a treatment is going to work will affect your body in a positive way. If you are thinking negatively about a treatment you will be too tense to experience all of the healing benefits.

So when going through a treatment, even if you don’t understand it, try to be open to change, relax, stay positive and have faith in yourself, in the person that is helping you, and in your chosen route of healing.

I am going to leave you with one of my most favorite quotes from a visionary who with the understanding of the power of belief, changed the world and led an entire country to freedom;

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your your values, Your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi, political and spiritual leader
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About Dawna Ara
Dawna is an acupuncturist, herbalist, functional medicine practitioner, a mom, wife, writer, nature lover, chef and whole foods advocate. She teaches how to live a healthy lifestyle through her website Eat Play Work Sleep.