Placebo Effect — From a Spiritual Perspective

On a recent 60 Minutes segment, Lesley Stahl interviewed Harvard scientist Irving Kirsch, who says the drugs used to treat depression are effective, but for many, it’s not the active ingredient that’s making people feel better. It’s the placebo effect.

Obviously, this viewpoint is causing a lot of controversy. But traditional medicine has always recognized the power of Placebos as a healing agent, and the pharmaceutical industry uses placebos as the foundation of its multi-billion dollar drug industry. But the rise of alternative medicine and integrative medicine is changing the way the medical community is practicing medicine. And there’s one thing the medical community has always known about Placebos – they work!

But what about Spiritual Placebos? What about the power of believing? The Placebo Effect is essentially an inside-out process. We know that thoughts underwrite our reality. The power of the universe is localized in our consciousness.

Prayer, faith, positive affirmations, visualization, healing touch, meditation, and denying the power of outer appearances are all powerful Placebos. And they work because they are the out-picturing of our consciousness!

By the way, the word ‘placebo’ can be traced back to the 14th C when it was used in vesper services. It derives from the Latin translation which was a mistranslation of Psalm 116:9, “Placebo domino in regione vivorum,” which means, “I will please the Lord in the land of the living.”

Metaphysically, ‘please’ means ‘to apply,’ and ‘Lord’ means ‘Mind’ and ‘the land of the living’ means ‘for the sake of the body.’ So, metaphysically interpreted, Psalm 116:9 reads: “I will apply  mind power for the sake of the body.

So, you see, we don’t have to please a God ‘out there.’ We are not separated from God at all. We are God expressing at the point of us. We are the architects of placebo power!

But wait — there’s more! There is also such a thing as the Nocebo Effect, which is the opposite of the Placebo Effect. Nocebos worsen symptoms and cause harm.

In 2001, researchers stumbled onto a striking finding: People who believed that they were prone to heart disease were nearly four times as likely to die from a heart attack or stroke as people with similar risk factors who didn’t hold such fatalistic views.

In other words, the higher risk of death had nothing to with the usual heart disease culprits — age, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, excessive weight. Instead, it tracked closely with the power of belief. Think sick, be sick. Think a disease is fatal, and chances are it will be fatal.

“When people are convinced that something is going to go wrong, it usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Dr. Arthur Barsky, a psychiatrist at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was inviting his peers to pay closer attention to the nocebo effect.

“Surgeons are wary of people who are convinced that they will die,” says Herbert Benson, a Harvard professor and president of Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston. He goes on to say: “There are examples of studies done on people undergoing surgery who seem to prefer to die in order to re-contact a loved one. Close to 99 percent of people under those circumstances die.”

Placebos and Nocebos, it seems, are very definitely mind over molecules.

In fact, it’s our belief or non-belief in something, whatever that something is, that determines whether we do or don’t, heal or suffer, live or just exist, move on or stay stuck in the past.

And when we apply that truth to our human experience, it is the voltage of our faith (or the amperage of our lack of faith) which makes us or breaks us.

When it comes to the Placebo Power of faith, there are no unattainables. There are no incurables. Because faith has the voltage to move mountains.

When we are faith-full, we will no longer fear or fret about the circumstances in which we find ourselves, or doubt the power of the mind to heal, or doubt in our ability to manifest what we desire.

Why? Because the placebo power of faith moves mountains. And the size of those mountains doesn’t matter because they are no match for the placebo power of faith.


You can listen to a powerful message by Rev. Bil Holton entitled The Placebo Effect, by clicking here and scrolling to the podcast entitled The Placebo Effect.


About the authors: In addition to their work with The Metaphysical Website, Revs. Drs. Bil and Cher Holton are co-ministers of a growing church in Durham, NC. They are prolific authors, dynamic speakers, and master facilitators. Learn more by visiting them at




About Cher & Bil Holton

Since 1984, Cher & Bil Holton have been co-owners of The Holton Consulting Group, Inc., helping corporate and association clients enhance bottom-line results using cutting edge employee engagement. Their keynote speeches, turbo-training, and coaching sessions are practical, grounded in research, and lots of fun to boot! They are prolific authors, and take "Indiana Jones" vacations to continually stretch their limits!
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