Why we need to be more aware of the Placebo’s ‘Dark Twin’

Why we need to be more aware of the Placebo’s ‘Dark Twin’

The placebo, and its impact on healing and health, has been known for thousands of years. But, only recently has the scientific community given its dark twin, the nocebo, any attention.

Even though the nocebo is more usually an inert substance that triggers adverseresponses in the subject, communicationat all levels, including the non-verbal, cannegatively impact the listener. Even readingabout diseases, or watching TV documentaries,can trigger adverse responses, new researchhas revealed.Doctors and pharmacists are well aware of the negative effect on patients of the list of possible side-effects usually included in the package of prescription drugs.

Dr Michael Witthöft of Johannes GutenbergUniversity Mainz (JGU), recently completed animportant new study in what has been dubbedthe “Wi-fi Syndrome” at London’s King’sCollege.

“The mere anticipation of possible injurymay actually trigger pain or disorders. This isthe opposite of the analgesic effects we knowcan be associated with exposure to placebos”,he says.

Curious about reports of an increase in“electromagnetic sensitivity”, DrWitthöft andhis colleagues showed news reports aboutthe purported health risks of wi-fi signals to two groups of volunteers. A second, controlgroup was shown a documentary on mobilephone security that included no referenceto electromagnetic “pollution”. Then, eachparticipant in turn was exposed to dummy“amplified wi-fi signals” and their responseswere monitored.

Unlike the control group, more than half theparticipants who had viewed the report on thedangers of electromagnetic exposure reportedexperiencing characteristic symptoms,including agitation and anxiety, loss ofconcentration or tingling in their fingers,arms, legs, and feet.

Two participants quitthe study because they were afraid to exposethemselves to further “radiation”.

The impact of language has long been suspected by the more observant practitioners, though only recently better understood.Interestingly, most health professionals we meet regard themselves as “good communicators”. However, asked whether they see themselves as “effective communicators”, they are less sure.

The true this, if we leave communication to chance,we risk harming the patient or client as much as we want to help him or her.

Finnish linguist and communications expert Osmo Wiio has formulated several humorous, but nevertheless seriously intentioned, “laws of communication” to illustrate the pitfalls of careless talk.

For example:

  • Communication usually fails, except byaccident 
  • The more important the situation is, the more probably you forget an essential thingthat you remembered a moment ago, and 
  • If a message can be interpreted in severalways, it will be interpreted in a manner thatmaximises the damage.

More soberly, Sigmund Freud said, “Wordswere originally magic, and to this day words have retained much of their ancient magicalpower”.(5) He also commented, “By words oneperson can make another blissfully happy ordrive him to despair”.

Two issues arise out of all this: the pressing need for more research into the effect of electromagnetic emissions on living beings, and the impact of communication—all forms of communication—on the health and wellbeing of both speaker and listener. The second necessity is at least as important as the first.

-© 2018 Garner Thomson

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