Placebos, Prayer, and Perception

As someone who grew up in America, the idea that all things not bio-medical when it comes to health and healing sound phony or folky, or at least that use to be the case. Western medicine has scoffed at folk remedies for centuries, laughing at people who eat roots or weeds to cure aliments. Then things like 21st century technology comes along, and we ‘discover’ that the root being eaten contains compounds that work wonders to fight the aliment the healers said it did. Overall, it stands to reason that, as Dr. Gabriel said in her “But Does It Work?” lecture, just because science has yet to prove something, does not mean that something is false. Science will always admit there is more to learn, and the interplay between religion and healing has shown this to be true for centuries.

Looking to the San people of Botswana, their healing dance and traditional medicines are great examples of the interplay between religion and healing. While Western medicine would typically stand up and say that the dance and traditional remedies don’t cure anything, it also says that a sugar pill (placebo) works enough of the time to have use in clinical trials and be the baseline requirement for the effectiveness of developing medicines.  If all of these dances and remedies were wholly ineffective, it stands to reason that they wouldn’t have became so complex and integral to the lives of the San people.  At the least, the faith that the people have in the healers leads to helping them, which can go a long way to the recovery of the sick.

Dr. Christina Puchalski’s publication “The Role of Spirituality in Health Care,” covers many examples of how the patient’s spirituality (religion) can improve their well-being, either emotionally, mentally, or physically. From a decreased fear of death among HIV infect patients, to increased coping and acceptance of a childhood cancer victim’s death among the family members. There were even studies she covered which showed that mediation can decrease blood pressure and chronic stress. Science may not be able to ‘explain’ it in the way we are typically use to seeing it, but it can most definitely show that it is having an effect.

Prayer in American hospitals is very common, and even encouraged by the fact that many hospitals, even ones not ran with religious ethos in mind, contain a church/temple/sanctum of sorts for prayer. Many, not all, patients find solace, acceptance, or even improvement thanks to their spirituality and religion. In essence, the relation between science, religion, and healing is complex to say the least, but there is always something that any one of the three can add to the other two to achieve what their common goal is, the improvement of the lives of people.

Gabriel, Cynthia. “But Does it Work?” ANP 370 Culture Health and Illness. 2015. Accessed July 22, 2016.

Spiritsofafrica. “SAN (Bushman) Healing Dance Botswana Africa.” YouTube. 2012. Accessed July 22, 2016.

Puchalski, Christina M. “The Role of Spirituality in Health Care.” Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center). October 13, 2001. Accessed July 22, 2016.


2 thoughts on “Placebos, Prayer, and Perception

  1. Hi,
    I really liked your post and agree with it. Growing up in America, Western Medicine is really the only thing that we know. If you’re sick, take this and really do not ask any questions. I would also agree where you say people are starting to see the benefits in other approaches, like nutrition. Although it is widely accepted diet plays some role in health it is kind of just this after thought people have. But in some countries where western physicians and hospitals are not readily available other forms of medicine and healing are their only outlet. Similar to the way Dance is used in Botswana.
    I liked your summation of the Puchalski article too, and is exactly what this week was discussing how mental health can impact medical outcomes. And it got me thinking about how would someone improve the current medical practice to include this realm of healing. Would it have to be a separate specialty or would every physician have some sort of training in it?
    You also mentioned how hospitals have a non-denominational place of worship where people can go to find solace, (I actually think it may be required?). But that is an optional service hospitals provide what about the patients who have no religion should hospitals provide like a meditation room? Anyway good post I enjoyed reading it!

  2. Hello! I thought that you brought up some interesting points in your blog post! In the beginning of your blog post you mentioned how our society really values the biological point of view when it comes to health, illness, and medicine. I agree with you on that in our lives we normally approve the biological reasoning and don’t really accept other possibilities for healing processes. To add to this, in the video we watched this week “The Science of Acupuncture”, it discussed acupuncture and the perceptions of it through different cultures and it tested the credibility of the results it gives to the patients (Gabriel Flores Rozas, 2014). I realized that although acupuncture can be thought of as this “strange” sort of procedure because those who do not use it or have background knowledge of it will most likely believe that it will not work because we are not accepting of it. Our society is not very accepting to possibilities of different medicine methods. If other medicine methods are working for individuals, then you would think that we would be accepting of them and want to try and use them ourselves instead of treating them as something that is wrong. It is interesting to see all the different methods of healing on the biological and spiritual side and to see how everyone reacts to it. Great post!

Leave a Reply