05 November 2007

Can self-deception be a good thing?

This is rare, but not unprecedented: an article published by my beloved day-job employer has got me thinking. It's about a trendy new therapy called "healing touch" that's being offered by a growing number of hospitals to treat post-surgery pain, among other things. Give the article a read if it sounds interesting to you. Be sure to click on the ads. ;-)

Here's what I'm noodling about. I have some gut guesses about this procedure. I wouldn't be surprised if any or all of them are wrong, and that's not really my point, anyway. Here are my guesses:

1) This stuff really works.
2) It works because the patients believe it works, not because there's really an energy field around our bodies that can be manipulated by folks moving their hands over it.
3) It wouldn't work if the patients believed that it only works because they believe it works.

Again, these guesses are not really my point. I don't really want to debate their accuracy. They are, admittedly, just hunches; we're not going to determine truth regarding them via discussion.

My point, instead, is this: let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that I happen to be correct on all three counts. In that case: is there anything wrong with this sort of New Age placebo therapy, from an ethical/moral/spiritual point of view? Or put more bluntly and generally: can self-deception be a good thing if it relieves pain?


kate said...

It seems like the distinction you're making is in HOW it works. If it works, it works, right? The mind receives the pain messages. Maybe it can choose to ignore them.
Okay, I haven't read the article, and am commenting with the first thought that flew into my mind. So feel free to poke away at the many probable logical holes therein. :)

Ryan said...

If it was being used in place of other, more effective treatments that lack side effects, then the question of how it works would be relevant. But if it helps people feel less pain, then it works. Remember, doctors still don't know how a lot of household-name drugs do what they do, they just know that they work.

Mike Croghan said...

I'm pretty sure I agree. But doctors who prescribe aspirin for pain relief without knowing how it works don't then claim that it works due to tiny invisible fairies called bufferinos. That aspect of this still bothers me a little.

Jayce from Rochester said...

Define "pain" and "works" and we'll see if we can go from there.

Mike Croghan said...

I'm happy to define them subjectively - it's the only definition that means jack as far as I'm concerned. So a therapy meant to reduce "pain" "works" if the patient subjectively experiences appreciably less suffering than they otherwise would.

Peri said...

I think you're right, except on #3: I personally believe there's no magical field around my body that can be manipulated by waving hands, but nevertheless it does work on me. But, as it's being done I visualize the energy, suspending disbelief much like when watching special effects in a movie. If I sit back and think about it, it may be obviously false... but while in the moment, it's good enough to seem real.

There are more scientific-types working in hospitals that really dislike the healing touch. In some cases, they've had it moved from the nursing staff to the hospital chaplains and such to distinguish between science and faith, which seems appropriate and a fair solution to me.

RevoLutheran said...

Hmmm...sounds vaguely like Reiki...


My mom sent me to have it done once when my Crohn's was acting up, and I neither assert nor deny that it does something. I didn't walk out "fixed" or "like new", but I was in REALLY bad shape when I went in! (It has been too long for me to even remember what it accomplished, but I know I didn't leave worse -- er...duh).

Anyway, my thought is that almost anything is worth trying, but you don't want to spend a ton of time/money/etc on something that hasn't worked for you in the past.