The placebo response is commonly invoked as a factor in the therapeutic relationship between the family physician and the patient, but important recent literature can be difficult for family physicians to access. Coordinated interdisciplinary research into the placebo response as it occurs in primary care settings is lacking. Although there is controversy about the nature and scope of the placebo response, important suggestions are emerging about its psychological mechanisms (expectancy and conditioning) and the biochemical pathways that act as psychosomatic linkages (endorphins, catecholamines and cortisol, psychoneuroimmumunology). The available research justifies interventions by family physicians that maximize the placebo response in everyday patient encounters. These include the sustained partnership approach, working with patients on the narratives they construct to explain illness, listening to patients, providing them with satisfactory explanations, expressing care and concern, and enhancing their sense of control. Notable opportunities exist for family medicine investigators to expand the understanding of this phenomenon.