It’s a debate that has gone on for years, and continues to be discussed by physicians and psychologists. The issue of whether positive thinking affects the medical treatment of patients is one that is hard to resolve. Many patients have seen positive, traceable results when they focused on staying optimistic, but psychologist Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, says that for every patient who has seen results from positive thinking there may be others who thought the same thing and are no longer alive. That said, public figures such as Lance Armstrong, Gabrielle Giffords, and others attribute a large part of their recoveries from serious illnesses and injuries to their strong spirits.
Although it’s hard to prove, there have been many cases where a positive outlook showed traceable medical improvement in a patient. This confirms the theory of the placebo effect. The placebo effect is defined as “the measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health not attributable to an actual treatment.” In other words, it is when patients are given sugar pills in place of regular medication, or are told that a medical procedure was done, when in reality it was not done, and a measurable improvement occurs. There have been numerous cases where the placebo effect showed marked improvement in patients’ medical conditions, even though no real medical intervention was being administered.
In 2007 researchers from the University of British Columbia tested the placebo effect on patients with Parkinson’s disease. They gave one group of patients apomorphine, a drug which mimics dopamine, a chemical in the brain that is deficient in patients with Parkinson’s. They gave the second group a placebo, and they, too, released dopamine, in response to the expectation of receiving medication. This study clearly proved the validity of the placebo effect, and as such, that the mind has a large role in medical treatment of the body.
While physicians and psychologists will continue to debate the issue, there can be no harm in focusing on a good outcome, and it may actually lead to improved results. Dr. Deepak Chopra is a big believer in the power of the mind when it comes to healing. He explains that one who is at peace with himself can reap the benefits of positive thinking, which can include a decline in high blood pressure, weight, stress levels, and other negative symptoms. In Dr. Chopra’s words in an article for the Huffington Post, “The everyday choices we make affect not only our physical health, but all dimensions of our collective health and well being. This is not to say that pharmaceutical and surgical interventions are not warranted… But looking at them to solve all of our illnesses has made us as a society overlook the powerful self-healing mechanisms within us.”
The objective of practicing positive thinking is to make use of the healing systems that lie within our bodies to help assist in recovery from various illnesses.
External factors can help patients maintain a positive attitude. Studies have shown that even the scrubs worn by nurses can help improve patients’ state of mind, which can then help them recover. In a study done on hospitalized children in Florence, a large percentage of the children were more confident in their nurses, and were uplifted when their nurses wore printed or colored Carhartt scrubs. While the donning of Carhartt uniforms is only a small factor in the grand scheme of treatment, everything that contributes to a positive state of mind can help facilitate patient recovery.
A crucial aspect in keeping patients upbeat is adequate family support. Family and friends who visit often and show the patient that they care can have a marked improvement on treatment, as they will cause an uplift in spirits, which can only lead to good things. Doctors, also, will usually make the effort to visit patients and address their fears before a procedure so that the patient will be calm, and the procedure will go smoothly. A good bedside manner is very important in a doctor, and some patients will choose one doctor over another based on this, because the doctor’s bedside manner will also affect the patient’s attitude.
The Mayo Clinic strongly recommends that patients should practice positive thinking techniques throughout the day, in order to train themselves to think optimistically. They provide tutorials and exercises for patients to become positive thinkers, in order to facilitate the medical treatment being administered.
Patients have an array of options to choose from when looking to practice various exercises and techniques that will help them remain upbeat. These may include meditation, hypnosis, spirituality, progressive muscle relaxation, and other methods. The factor that all of these practices share is a focus on a calm, peaceful state of mind, which can go a long way toward helping patients’ medical conditions.
Whether or not a positive state of mind has a serious affect on patient outcome will continue to be debated, but all the experts agree that when it comes to medicine, only good things can come from positive thinking.
Josh Weiss is a freelance writer and a believer in the power of positive thinking.