Positive psychology and New Age ideas about health and healing have flooded the internet and bookstore shelves in recent years. But as a doctor who wrote a science-based book about the physiology of the body’s natural healing process, it strikes me that some of what’s out there is giving the idea that the body can heal itself a bad rap.

Why do I say that? Well, there’s a lot of pseudo-science and quasi-psychology masquerading as real data, when people are hungry for truth. Here’s some help debunking popular myths that may confuse what’s real.

1. It’s “just the placebo effect.”

Just the placebo effect? Why do people say “placebo” as if it’s a four-letter word? Don’t they understand that the placebo effect is proof positive that the body is brilliantly equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that can fix broken proteins, kill cancer cells, fight infectious agents, and retard aging? And don’t they realize that even if a clinical trial fails to demonstrate that a drug or surgery or alternative medicine treatment is better than a placebo, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t “work” when 18-80% of the time, the body heals itself when given a sugar pill or saline injection in a clinical trial. And that’s GREAT NEWS!

The placebo effect needs a major image overhaul. I suggest we call it the “self-healing effect” to remind ourselves that it’s just a measurable phenomena related to the body’s known self-repair mechanisms.

2. The placebo effect is all in your mind.
While thoughts, beliefs, and feelings originating in the mind can activate placebo-like “self-healing effects” in the body, the placebo effect doesn’t just make people feel better; it affects measurable outcomes in the body’s physiology. When patients are treated with sugar pills, saline injections, and fake surgeries, warts disappear. Colons become less inflamed. Bronchi dilate. Bald men even grow hair.

It’s not just in your mind. It’s in your body.

3. Placebo effects only happen to gullible people.

Nope. All of us are susceptible to placebo effects. In fact, some studies suggest that people with higher IQ’s maybe even more susceptible than average. The only ones who seem to be relatively immune to placebo effects are those with Alzheimer’s.

4. You can heal yourself.

To say you can heal yourself is kind of a misnomer. As I elucidate in great detail in Chapter 3 of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, the data suggests that your body can heal itself, but it does so much more effectively when the process is facilitated by the right kinds of healers who support the body’s self-healing process. These may include doctors and nurses, but they may also include therapists, acupuncturists, energy healers, naturopaths, shamans, and many other modalities of healing practitioners. A combination of positive belief on the part of your provider and nurturing care that leaves your amygdala feeling calm and safe has been scientifically proven to improve health outcomes.

5. Doctors don’t use placebos in clinical practice.
Psych! Approximately 50% of doctors admit to using placebos in clinical practice, usually without the patient’s consent. They’re not trying to be sneaky. Those who do this are just trying to help. (For example, when a patient has maxed out her pain medication and will be at risk if she gets more, a doctor may inject saline into her IV and tell her it’s morphine. Very often, she gets relief.)

It’s not always a sugar pill or a saline injection. Sometimes, instead, it’s a drug known to be ineffective for the condition being treated or a vitamin proven not to work.

It’s an ethical dilemma for doctors, and many are conflicted about their choices, but if you think it doesn’t happen in medical offices, think again.
6. If you can’t heal yourself, you’ve done something wrong.
No! No! No! While thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that originate in the mind can trigger stress responses in the body that deactivate the body’s natural self-healing processes, predisposing the body to illness, the presence of illness does not mean that you’ve been a bad patient with bad thoughts and you deserve a cosmic spanking.

There’s no place for blame, shame, or guilt when it comes to the healing process. Such thoughts only trigger more stress responses. As Dr. Christiane Northrup says, “We are responsible to our illness, not for our illness.” Instead of blaming yourself, try asking yourself, “Is there a lesson I might learn from my health condition?” or “If my illness had a message to deliver me, what would it tell me?”

If the answer to both questions is “Nada,” cool beans. Even if your health condition has something to teach you, it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. It means you’re doing something very right by allowing illness to be an opportunity for awakening.
7. Healing yourself is all quantum physics.

I’m studying energy medicine and what I’m learning fascinates me. But I think there’s a tendency to try to explain everything with science when perhaps some things are better explained in spiritual terms. These days it seems like everyone and her mother is referencing quantum physics as the explanation for things some may find hard to believe or understand. But perhaps we need to cultivate our tolerance for ambiguity, rather than trying to couch what we don’t fully understand in a pseudo-scientific language that just gets the scientists up in arms.

In other words, if you’re gonna quote science, make sure you get it right. Don’t throw scientific language around if you’re not really sure what you’re talking about.

8. All illness results from past life karma.

I’m learning all about past lives after recently meeting psychiatrist Dr. Brian Weiss, author of Many Lives, Many Masters, with whom I had the privilege of experiencing a past life regression when we were both speaking at Hay House’s I Can Do It! conference in Atlanta. (Read about my past life regression here). I’m not dissing past lives or suggesting that we can’t learn a lot about how we’re behaving in this life by looking at the arc of our soul’s journey in past ones. Whether past life regressions illuminate real past lives or are metaphors for what our soul is here to learn in this one, I think they can be profoundly healing to body, mind, and soul.

But to suggest that all illnesses are the result of bad karma we inherit from things we did “wrong” in past lives strikes me as off base. It sounds too much like blame, and if you’re an 8-year-old who has leukemia or you just got hit by a semi and are now paralyzed, the last thing you need to hear is that past life karma is striking you down in this life.

9. Illnesses that resolve without medical treatment are the result of miracles and magic.

While I’m not denying the presence of Divine intervention and miracles (I believe!), and while I’m certainly open to the possibility of magic, the body’s ability to heal itself can be explained with pure physiology. The people in the medical literature who experience spontaneous remissions from seemingly “incurable” illnesses aren’t just lucky. Instead of learning helplessness and sitting back passively, feeling like victims, many of them chose to be proactive about increasing their odds of spontaneous remission. (Read here to learn the 6 behaviors people who experience spontaneous remission from Stage 4 cancer have in common).

Mind Over Medicine explains in great detail the physiology of how such behaviors influence the amygdala in your brain, which affects hormones in your bloodstream, and affects every cell in your body. While magic may exist, when the mind is optimally healthy, the body may follow.

10. It’s all about cure.

Yes, when we’re sick, it’s natural to focus on how much relief we’d feel if only the disease would vaporize completely. But what if there’s a deeper sense of peace we can access when we let go of the need to control outcomes and instead, surrender to what is, while simultaneously doing everything within our power to make our bodies ripe for cure?

Kris Carr and I will be appearing together on a DVD that we’re filming this week as part of a public television special about Mind Over Medicine. In preparation for our interview, I asked her how she handles the fact that she’s done everything “right” on her healing journey, but she still has Stage 4 cancer. Kris eloquently told me that she long ago relinquished the attachment to cure, choosing instead to define success as thriving, with or without cancer. Within such surrender, true healing lies.

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  1. Meg Sylvia

    Thank you!! You’re so right that the placebo effect needs a re-branding. It’s one of my pet peeves that self-healing and alternative medicine are often looked down upon because of “lack of scientific evidence”, even though the placebo effect goes to show just how effective they can be!

  2. Deane Alban

    When I was a kid I had a plantars wart on my foot. My pediatrician told me to draw an outline of my foot on a piece of paper and put a big red X where the wart. Golly, if it didn’t go away. That was my first lesson in the placebo effect.

  3. Intuitive Leadership Coach

    “All illness results from past life karma.” That’s really funny. Like we don’t have enough to deal with in this life we have to add other past lives to the mix!

    I love love love Dr. Brian Weiss (I attended an AMZING workshop with him at Omega this summer) but I love that you make it clear that carrying sickness from past life is a myth. Some people would argue that a child getting sick is a soul contract, which could be possible, but it sure as hell don’t make me feel good.

    It feels more empowering to me to keep the power in the present moment and to focus on this current life 🙂

  4. Rhana

    Thank you Lissa!

    RIGHT ON!! Love it!

    The “student and teacher” metaphor supports an openminded, curious, compassionate, and thoughtful approach to our unique healing paths.
    Vaporizing self-judgement is a good place to begin!

  5. Sarah Haykel

    OMG, Amen Hallelujah Lissa! I am LOVING how immersed you are in this work, that really shows in how you write about things. You are studying in, you are working out side the box, you care, you are doing your own internal spiritual, healing and inquiry work. BRAVA! I am SO INSPIRED to keep on going with the work I am doing too. This is what you are for me: a guiding post into my most brilliant, real and expressive life where I take a stand, from a very true and real place, in what I perceive, experience and where proof has shown it works and is 🙂

    Love, Sarah

  6. Steaphen Pirie

    “All illness results from past life karma. —
    It sounds too much like blame,..”

    Agree. And it’s also bad science, at least the kind espoused by the likes of John Wheeler (originator of “Delayed-Choice Experiments”), and Einstein who said physicists “know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”

    If you are going to blame the past, you ought blame the future as well. Each have influence on the present.

    It’s simply our cultural bias to focus on the past (and past lives) – which is mostly a result of lack of maturity.

    If people want to explore past lives, then go for it. Those that don’t, don”t.
    Visualising (preliving) desired futures is far more relevant, effective and FUN!

  7. handsofeye

    It is all in your mind, Simply think only about letting go of pain and feeling good. It begins with the thought

  8. Nancy Mae

    What a great article! As an Energy Medicine Practitioner and a lover of research, I appreciate your approach to the topic of self-healing in this article. I look at self-healing as an opportunity for the body, mind and spirit to integrate on whatever level is needed at the time. To find out more about my work, please visit http://www.nancymae.com

    • Julie Diy Scorza

      I’m currently receiving energy healing treatments from Dr Marilyn Chernoff. She has truly helped me as I suffer from bilateral Meniere’s disease, asthma, and sinus disease!

  9. Tedd jarret

    Screw you dude xD you just want that money. You know thw body can self heal, and you know that wyen people catch on to this, those big bucks you’re making are gone. Fuck you and your stupid ideas on this bs that we need docs and crap. How do you think people healed themselves in the older days when none of this existed? Im living proof that thr body heals, and it does so in a magnificent way. Medicene stops these natural healing processes and our bodies adapt to this idea that theres no hope. You get cancer, well shit. This procedure doesny work, and these meds dont work youre done for. Truth is exercise and nutrients stabilizes this, and in the long run it helps the fucking body. So again fuck you and your piece of shit ass for thinking medication helps when in the long run, your so callrf cures for cancer dont treat the thing at whole but thr symptoms.


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