The Healing Effects of Belief in Medical Practices and Spirituality

Explore (NY). Jul-Aug 2015;11(4):273-80. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2015.04.002. Epub 2015 Apr 28.


Shamans and other healing practitioners have used placebos from earliest recorded history to treat those who were ill. As modern scientific theories of disease developed, the use of placebos was considered to be an ineffective and deceptive practice. Later, medical researchers used placebos primarily as an inactive treatment standard against which scientifically based ("real") medicines could be evaluated. However, placebos were discovered to have their own self-healing effects. Spirituality including transcendent experiences also promotes healing effects and recently has been shown to involve neural systems (brain networks) comparable (if not identical) to those engaged in placebo responses. Therapists can facilitate both of these self-healing processes in different ways, including finding meaningfulness in physically and mentally painful situations using Viktor Frankl׳s practice of "logotherapy."

Keywords: Placebo; logotherapy; spirituality; state vs. trait; transcendent experiences; unconscious mind.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • Mind-Body Therapies*
  • Nerve Net
  • Placebo Effect*
  • Shamanism*
  • Spirituality*