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Pain and Placebo

by Laura Rathbone

This month we are exploring the placebo and the placebo effect, I have to be honest, this is one of my favourite areas to explore and i just find it fascinating!

I first fell in love with this when I watched the Ted Kaptchuck TedTalk just a couple of years after graduating and i remember thinking WHAT??!?!?!? how come this wasn't on the curriculum! It felt like a massive whole in my knowledge that seemed to bring everything i thought i knew about pain, illness and recovery into question.

So this month, I wanted to share with you some challenging readings and a great piece of suggestive work in action!

Our humanities piece is a short clip of the British mentalist Derren Brown performing hypnosis-associated analgesia with audience members. And it's pretty mind blowing!

Derren Brown takes ritual and suggestion to the next level with his performances and is able to manipulate a persons perceptual experience and decision-making not only to produce an analgesic affect, but he also hypnotised a man to assassinate Stephen Fry (a British actor and comedian - think Blackadder), and created a zombie apocalypse for an unsuspecting participant after seemingly ending the world.

Hypnosis works in this way. According to the report produced by the British Psychological Society: The Nature of Hypnosis hypnosis works through the power of suggestion to influence a persons' perceptions, feelings, thinking and behaviour by asking them to concentrate on ideas and images that may evoke the intended effects.


This month's readings will challenge you to look outside of the treatment and intervention you might choose on with your patient and to explore the environment, communication, ritual and expected norms within this intervention is embedded.

To explore all the other dimensions of the full human experience of your intervention, of a person's experience of their pain and being with you in the clinic space, and wonder how they might be showing up to alter it?

Exploring placebo-effect challenges our comfort zone of 'what we know' as clinicians and asks us to consider what it is to experience this moment as a person.

The readings for August on Pain Geeks are:

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