Psychotherapy Research and the Placebo Effect

In his „Comments on the State of Psychotherapy Research (As I See It)“ David Orlinsky points to some old wounds in psychotherapy research (and in many ways research in psychology in general). I think it is worth re-reading every now and then while you are active in the field. Right now I discovered some stimulating words on the „Placebo Effect“, something I feel will be important to really understand and utilize in practice in the next decade. Unless we want to leave it to modern shamans of good and bad intentions.

Thanks to a conversation at the recent SPR conference in Montreal among colleagues from different cultural traditions (Bae et al., 2005), I became aware of how unnatural the bodymind dichotomy (with its consequent distinction between „physical health“ and „mental health“) appears from other cultural perspectives, and of how grossly it distorts the evident psychosomatic continuity of the living human person. When this basic continuity is conceptually split into „psyche“ and „soma“, a mysterious quality is created as the byproduct (much as energy is released when atoms are split) — a mysterious quality that is labeled (and as much as possible viewed dismissively) as „the placebo effect.“ This effect, mysteriously labeled in Latin, is viewed as a „contaminant“ in research designs — but, struggle as researchers do to „control“ it (rather than understand it), they typically fail in the attempt because the „effect“ reflects an aspect of our reality as human beings that cannot be eliminated.

As a side note, I found my views on all the fuss that is made about neuroscience these days put very concisely:

Another widely shared bias of modern culture that complicates and distorts the work of researchers on psychotherapy and psychopharmacology (and medicine more broadly) is the implicit assumption of an essential distinction or dichotomy between soma and psyche (or matter and mind), notwithstanding the efforts of modern philosophers like Ryle (1949) to undo this Cartesian myth. Because of this, findings that psychological phenomena have neurological or other bodily correlates (e.g., using MRI or CT scans to detect changes in emotional response) are viewed as somehow amazing and worthy of note even in the daily press.

The whole text alongside other interesting stuff can be found as a reprint in the publicly accessible journal „Existenzanalyse“ (English and German articles) 2008–1. And here is their archive of issues.

Datum: Dienstag, 22. März 2011 10:21
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