The Mysterious Ways of Healing

Assistant editor Dan Hoffman puts his ideas about faith in medicine to the test–including acupuncture!

Posted in , Feb 15, 2016

Faith in healing including acupuncture

The past few weeks, I’ve been trying something new to improve my health: acupuncture. This coincides well with my interest in faith in medicine, because it tests many of my ideas. When I go for care, I like to know a little bit about the treatment I’m receiving and understand its approach to healing.

I went to an acupuncturist because of recommendations from friends, but I did my research too. Studies have shown that it is effective, but not any more effective than placebo treatment–placebo treatment in this case being sham acupuncture.

This might seem like a reason not to try it, but trusting my intuition that healing is something more than what scientific studies can qualify and explain, I wanted to see what would happen. Furthermore, I knew that in the philosophy of Chinese medicine, the whole person is treated and not just the illness.

And it did work for me–leaving my acupuncturist’s office, I felt rested, light on my feet and just simply better.

But why, if it had nothing to do with the needles? That’s the mystery. Science doesn’t know exactly, but it has something to do with a combination of factors–belief in the treatment, confidence in the doctor/caregiver, the doctor/caregiver’s attitude, time spent with patient, etc.

According to research done by physician Dr. Lissa Rankin in her book Mind Over Medicine, these factors can all contribute to a feeling of calm and relaxation in the patient which, physiologically, is ideal for healing. “Eliciting relaxation responses is known to induce positive hormonal changes and return the body to homeostasis, which can induce self-repair of the body,” Dr. Rankin writes.

As Rankin discusses in her book, many treatments from medical doctors to chiropractors to energy healers to faith healers have at least some positive effects on patients even if they shouldn’t technically “work.” Personally, I think it has to do with that “one extra factor” I blogged about previously. Belief has real power.

The last time I came for my treatment my doctor asked if the herbal remedy he’d given me helped me sleep. “It did, but I don’t know if it was just placebo effect,” I said (I’d been getting ready to write this very post earlier that day). He laughed and said, “I knew you’d say something like that. It’s because you think a lot.” His remark is part of why I plan on going back–he was attuned to something about me that had nothing to do with my body.

Have you ever been healed by something, even though the science said it shouldn’t have worked? Share your story here.

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