Suggestion, permission and placebo

18th February 2014
BBC2 Horizon Programme 17th February 2014.

The impact of placebo on control groups in pharmacological research has long been a puzzling and attractive subject to me. The suggestion that people can reduce symptoms and increase performance because they think that they are taking some new wonder drug/nutrient is appealing. The high performance cyclists in the programme were improving their times ( I think something like 2/3s of them improved) simply by taking a cornflour filled pill that they thought contained super nutrients. It was suggested that much of placebo was down to deception. This led to an interesting conundrum, how do you ethically make use of placebo? After all many think it is the deception that helps release dopamine, serotonin, and opiates into your body.

What we say or do impacts on others.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School began investigating the level of placebo if the patient knew in advance they were just receiving a cornflour pill. The results showed that in some cases the placebo, in this case reduction of IBS symptons, was as pronounced even though the patient had been fully briefed by their Doctor. Further research identified that the manner in which the Doctor engaged  with the patient nearly doubled the placebo numbers if the Doctor used empathy and asked the patients questions about how they ‘felt’ prior to taking the placebo pills.

Hypnosis and Placebo

There are many misconceptions about hypnosis and I was pretty pleased that it was considered both credible and effective in this programme. In essence it was suggested that hypnotic language, suggestion and permission, helped create placebo. I have been working for many years as a therapist  treating pain management using hypnosis in many different types of pain. Giving patients the permission t0 release pain reducing natural opiates as well as a reduction in the expectation of intolerable pain is something I find most satisfying and effective. Its actually reassuring to see that this is all about the patient allowing themselves to do this.

Applying placebo to business performance, if you could hit peak performance more often and I held out the red pill, that I suggested would help release the extra 3% of potential within you, the difference between being top of your field on in the also rans. If I then told you that you would create this yourself and you have a great chance of achieving it, would you take it? Or more importantly would you believe me?

A link to BBC iPlayer and the programme, its good, watch it.

Watch on iPlayer

Best wishes


    Find out how we use your personal information to contact you in our privacy policy.

    17th July 2019

    Why I don’t believe in “Leadership” any more

    Read more

    26th April 2019

    Is it time to talk about staff turnover yet?

    Read more

    22nd September 2017

    How Cancer made me more professional

    Read more

    30th August 2017

    Why I don’t believe in Leadership anymore

    Read more

    31st October 2016

    Time to address the alien in the room……….?

    Read more

    29th September 2016

    More motivated teams come from baby steps and not giant leaps.

    Read more