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FOTO Rehab Outcomes Blog

Placebo Effect: A Patient's Healing Power

Qualitative studies provide quite a bit of insight. It is for that reason that I thoroughly enjoy reading qualitative studies. 

This particular study really resonates. On paper and in our electronic medical records we have all sorts of quantitative data. We have treatment interventions and we have outcomes of care. Many of us realize that the treatment codes we charge do not tell the full picture. We are also learning through outcomes that it isn't all about the code or the intervention.

A patient's healing power really resonates with me. We all want our patients to harness their healing power. It seems that healing power is created within their beliefs and expectations. Clinicians have a role in shifting beliefs and expectations to encourage healing power.

Below you will find a quick view of the abstract. 


"Placebo effect is probably what we refer to as patient healing power": A qualitative pilot study examining how Norwegian complementary therapists reflect on their practice.




Complementary therapists spend considerable time with their patients, especially in the first consultation. The communication between patients and their therapists is important for raising consciousness and activation of the patient's self-healing power. Thus, the aims in this study were to delineate what complementary therapists regard as essential in patient consultations, their view of the healing process, and how the therapists understand the placebo effect and its position in the healing process.


Semi-structured individual interviews (n = 4), focus group interview (n = 1) and participant observation were conducted among four different complementary therapists in a Norwegian community. The text data was transcribed verbatim and the analysis of the material was conducted according to conventional and direct content analysis. Some codes were predefined and others were defined during the analysis.


The pilot study showed that the implemented methods seems feasible and fit well with the aims of this study. Complementary therapists (chiropractor, naprapath (musculoskeletal therapist), acupuncturist and acupuncturist/homeopath) representing four different complementary modalities participated. A combination of the conversation and examination during the first consultation formed the basis for the therapist's choice of treatment. A successful consultation was characterized by a fruitful relationship between the therapist and the patient. Moreover, the therapist needs to be humble and show the patient respect. Patients' positive beliefs and expectations about the treatment play a significant role in the healing process. The more hope the therapist can bring about, the more easily the patient can start believing that it is possible to get well.


This was a pilot study. Therefore the findings should be appreciated as limited and preliminary. Therapists' and patients' mutual understanding and treatment goals were essential for a successful consultation. The therapists emphasized their professional skills and therapeutic competence as important when building fruitful relationships with their patients. Exerting authority and making the patient feel confident were essential factors for a successful healing process. The complementary therapists understood the placebo effect as the patient's self-healing power, resulting from establishing trust and belief in the treatment process.

2017 May 12;17(1):262. doi: 10.1186/s12906-017-1770-8.