There have been many studies of people treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) interventions (which involves decreased black-white thinking, awareness of their fear, etc.) to decrease their chronic pain. People who undergo this type of treatment and believe that it will work typically do 40 percent better than those people who go in to the treatment believing that it will fail.
There’s a similar study involving the administration of an extremely powerful opioid painkiller to two groups. The first group of people was told that the medication would have little or no effect, even though it was a really powerful painkiller, and these people reported low levels of pain relief. The second group was told it would have a strong effect, and they reported significant pain reduction. In another study, subjects with severe arthritis of the knee responded to an inert medication (placebo) in the same way that those subjects responded who received a potent opioid. Regardless of the strength of the medication, we see this same pattern with the drug administration as with the behavioral intervention study. It underscores the nature of placebos and the ability of our brain’s neurochemistry to create phenomena in our body. Mind over matter, mind and body connection, and the power of the mind are all related to very real confirmed scientific experiments, which show that the neurochemistry of the brain is influenced by what we believe.
At the Las Vegas Recovery Center, people who come with an attitude of positivity, who willingly participate in activities, and possess internal motivation do much better than people who are forced into treatment and are reluctant to discontinue their pain medications. The latter group of patients tend to exercise less, be more resistant to the recovery process, and as a result of the negative emotions, they tend to have poorer outcomes.
Another interesting study related to placebos involved people who had knee surgery, which did not actually fix anything. A catheter was inserted into someone’s knee and he or she was told the knee was fixed. These patients performed just as well as those who actually had the surgery that cleared out the joint. There are a number of studies on this particular experiment that illustrates patients having sham-surgery performing just as well as those who had regular surgery.
We are biased toward certain activities. An example would be “taking a drug is more effective than meditation” or “using a medication is better than accepting reality.” Studies on the brain that show when we feel better mentally we have less physical pain. When we are distracted, we have less pain. The willingness to go through the pain often results in a better outcome.
To sum up, Woody Allen once said, “pessimists may have a more realistic view of life, but optimists live longer.”