OTC Placebo: the Cure for Children or Parents?

PillsAt Mountain Waves Healing Arts, we go to great lengths to help teach our guests and clients how to use the power latent in themselves to heal. That power does not lie in the practitioner, instructor, counselor, the modality, ritual or class taught. Rather, the power exists in the person seeking to heal. More specifically, it exists in their belief that they can heal.

As I work with clients in massage and bodywork sessions, I make it clear to them that I as the therapist can not make them relax. I can only help them achieve a level of comfort and trust in which they can let go and let themselves relax. They are the one doing the healing – and my clients do it over and over again with regular success. As they become more practiced in achieving this trust for themselves, they’ll realize that they really don’t need me to facilitate it.

This approach is the anti-thesis of the medical model, which says that the doctor has the power for the successful outcome of the patient’s condition. The patient is merely the one to be acted upon (or operated upon, depending on the the doctor’s medical degree). In fact, many doctors scoff at the patient who self-diagnoses their condition by saying they are unqualified to do so.

Yet, this medical model regularly proves that the source of healing power lies in the patient when placebos are used in studies of the efficacy of a new pharmaceutical or treatment.

“A placebo is a substance or procedure which a patient accepts as a medicine or therapy but which has no specific therapeutic activity for the condition. Any effect is thought to be based on the power of suggestion.” Wikepedia

Hence the terminology “the placebo effect”.

“A placebo effect is a therapeutic and healing effect of an inert medicine or ineffective therapy…. [It] occurs when a patient’s symptoms are altered in some way by a treatment, due to the individual expecting or believing that it will work. The placebo effect occurs when a patient is treated in conjunction with the suggestion from an authority figure or from acquired information that the treatment will aid in healing and the patient’s condition improves. This effect has been known since the early 20th century.” Wikepedia

The difference between the placebo effect and self-healing is in the awareness of the patient. For a placebo to work it must be prescribed by an authority figure who provides the suggestion that it will work. It’s really about deceiving the patient that the power is in the placebo, rather than in themselves.

This is the key to a new product set to be released next week called Obecalp (placebo spelled backwards). It was created by a woman who is the mother of three young children. As she says on her website, “I invented Obecalp when I realized that children might need a little more than a kiss to make it go away.” This product, given in a chewable cherry flavored pill (or soon to be released liquid), is really an inert pill that is made up almost entirely of the sugar dextrose. It truly fits the definition of placebo when given to a child by a parent under the deception that it is medicine.

What really is her intention here? If someone is ill in a way that requires more than a reassuring hug and a kiss, then I’d be the first to suggest they really do need medical attention. But if a parent’s reassurances can’t satisfy a child who doesn’t need medical attention, then is the issue really about the child’s illness or the parent’s inability to parent?

Proper parenting takes attentive work which can be exhausting – especially during times of a child’s illness or injury. These are times when as a parent you sometimes feel powerless to help your child heal. The truth is you’re right. You never had the power to heal your child. Only your child has that power. Accepting that as a parent, is as difficult as the medical doctor accepting that they are only the facilitator of their patient’s healing. After all, our children look to us as parents to be all powerful. Right? But it’s so hard to teach a child how to recognize their own power within themselves, why not give them a little sugar pill so mommy or daddy can get some sleep and be ready for that important business meeting in the morning.

To me, choosing to use a product like Obecalp is really an attempt to hide from this truth and avoid looking at our own insecurities. It’s not about making the child feel better, it’s about making us, as parents, feel better.

Here are some additional perspectives on the topic that you might find interesting:

Treating Childhood Ouchies with Placebos

Experts Question Placebo Pill for Children

Invented by a Mother


About Paul Kulpinski, LMT

Paul Kulpinski is a licensed massage therapist, holistic wellness coach and co-founder of Mountain Waves Healing Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona with over 15 years experience in helping people achieve their optimum state of well being. Information contained in this blog should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to validate the information presented here with other sources including your personal physician for information specific to you.
This entry was posted in Wellness Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s