Don’t tell me the likely outcome

Lynne McTaggart

Lately I’ve been working with a new chiropractor group to help me change the shape of my spine (I’d like a correct a slight curvature, caused in part by the occupational hazard of my profession, with its requirement of long hours at a computer).

 Lately I’ve been working with a new chiropractor group to help me change the shape of my spine (I’d like a correct a slight curvature, caused in part by the occupational hazard of my profession, with its requirement of long hours at a computer).

During our first visit, the chiropractor began to detail what he thought was possible and what not, and as a Canadian, used to litigious North America, he’d been trained not to inflate the likely outcome. Nevertheless, when he began saying what might not be possible, I stopped him in his tracks.


‘Let’s agree not to voice any limits on the outcome,’ I told him. ‘You and I can’t know the final result, and I don’t want to think about anything less than an ideal spine.’ Now that he knows me, I think I’ve now convinced him not to say one more negative word.


Essentially, I wanted a diagnosis but not a prognosis for the simple reason that I don’t want to be infected by any limiting beliefs. Medical scientists often speak of the ‘placebo effect’ as an annoying impediment to the proof of the efficacy of a chemical agent. To me, the placebo effect is the entire point of the exercise. Repeatedly, the mind has proved to be a far more powerful healer than the greatest of breakthrough drugs.


Take the case of Frank, who attended a talk of mine the other evening, where he told me the following story. Frank had been diagnosed with a tumor on his liver. He was in the hospital the night before, getting prepped for his operation to remove the tumour the following day. 


That night, unable to sleep, he read my book The Bond.  Something in the book, which is about the power of connection, spoke to something deep inside him, and he stayed up all night, reading the book in its entirety. That morning, he was given anesthesia in readiness for the surgery, but when he regained consciousness, the surgeon told him that he’d not had to perform any surgery. When he’d opened Frank up, the tumor that had been so clear on imaging beforehand  had somehow disappeared. 


Now, I want to make it clear nothing I wrote ‘did’ this. Something in my book 'spoke' to Frank in such a self-empowering way that it galvanized his body’s own potential to heal. All my book did was act, in a way, like a placebo – a talisman that gave Frank permission to heal.


The placebo is a form of intention – an instance of intention trickery. When a doctor gives a patient a placebo, or sugar pill, he or she is counting on the patient’s belief that the drug will work. It is well documented that belief in a placebo will create the same physiological effects as that of an active agent – so much so that it causes the pharmaceutical industry enormous difficulty when designing drug trials. So many patients receive the same relief and even the same side effects with a placebo as with the drug itself that a placebo is not a true control.


Our bodies do not distinguish between a chemical process and the thought of a chemical process. Indeed, a recent analysis of 46,000 heart patients, half of whom were taking a placebo, made the astonishing discovery that patients taking a placebo fared as well as those on the heart drug. The only factor determining survival seemed to be belief that the therapy will work and a willingness to follow it religiously.


Those who stuck to doctor’s orders to take their drug three times a day fared equally well whether they were taking a drug or just a sugar pill. Patients who tended not to survive were those who had been lax with their regimen, regardless of whether they had been given a placebo or an actual drug (British Medical Journal, 2006; 333: 15-9).


In another dramatic instance, at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Dr Bruce Moseley, a specialist in orthopadics, recruited 150 patients with severe osteoarthritis of the knee and divided them into three groups. Two-thirds were either given arthroscopic lavage (which washes out degenerative tissue and debris with the aid of a little viewing tube) or another form of debridement (which sucks it out with a tiny vacuum cleaner).


The third group were given a sham operation: The patients were surgically prepared, placed under anaesthesia and wheeled into the operating room. Incisions were made in their knees, but no procedure carried out.


Over the next two years, during which time none of the patients knew who had received the real operations and who had received the placebo treatment, all three groups reported moderate improvements in pain and function. In fact, the placebo group reported better results than some who had received the actual operation (New England Journal of Medicine, 2002; 347: 81–88)


The mental expectation of healing was enough to marshal the body’s healing mechanisms. The intention, brought about by the expectation of a successful operation, produced the physical change.


But it works the other way, too. One British fellow in his mid-fifties was being treated by the department of hematology at his local hospital with a history of a highly benign form of leukemia, for which he only occasionally required small doses of drugs.  He’d never been told the true nature of his condition and over the next couple of years remained well, with his blood profile stable. Although he was ordinarily quite punctilious about attending his outpatient clinics, one day he never showed up, and only later turned up on a surgical ward in a highly neglected state. 


It turned out that a few days before he’d looked over his doctor’s shoulder at his case notes and seen the word ‘leukemia.’ From there he went rapidly downhill and in three weeks he was dead, even though his blood count was unchanged.  None of his doctors or even the pathologists conducting his autopsy could find any biological cause for his rapid decline. 


This man died of a medical label and the association with it: ‘incurable cancerous disease’. He died of the wrong thoughts.  So like Frank, when I’m having treatment, I want to open my thoughts to the pure potential of healing. And I know that thoughts, ultimately, are my best medicine.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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