You Are the Placebo is divided into two parts:
— Part I gives you all the detailed knowledge and background information you need to be able to understand what the placebo effect is and how it operates in your brain and body, as well as how to create the same kind of miraculous changes in your own brain and body all by yourself, by thought alone.
Chapter 1 starts off the book by sharing some incredible stories demonstrating the amazing power of the human mind. Some of these tales relate how people’s thoughts have healed them, and others show how people’s thoughts have actually made them sick (and sometimes even hastened their death). You’ll read about a man who died after hearing he had cancer, even though his autopsy revealed that he’d been misdiagnosed; a woman plagued by depression for decades who improved dramatically during an antidepressant drug trial, despite the fact that she was in the group receiving a placebo; and a handful of veterans hobbled by osteoarthritis who were miraculously cured by fake knee surgery. You’ll even read some startling stories about voodoo curses and snake handling. My purpose in sharing these dramatic stories is to show the wide range of what the human mind is capable of doing all on its own, without any help from modern medicine. And hopefully, it will lead you to the question “How is that possible?”
Chapter 2 gives a brief history of the placebo, tracing accounts of related scientific discoveries from the 1770s (when a Viennese doctor used magnets to induce what he thought were therapeutic convulsions) all the way through the modern day, as neuroscientists solve exciting mysteries about the intricacies of how the mind works. You’ll meet a doctor who developed techniques of hypnotism after arriving late for an appointment only to find his waiting patient mesmerized by a lamp flame, a World War II surgeon who successfully used saline injections as an analgesic on wounded soldiers when he ran out of morphine, and early psychoneuroimmunology researchers in Japan who switched poison ivy leaves with harmless leaves and found that their test group reacted more to what they were told they were experiencing than to what they actually did experience.
You’ll also read about how Norman Cousins laughed himself to health; how Harvard researcher Herbert Benson, M.D., was able to reduce cardiac patients’ risk factors for heart disease by figuring out how Transcendental Meditation worked; and how Italian neuroscientist Fabrizio Benedetti, M.D., Ph.D., primed subjects who had been given a drug, and then switched the drug for a placebo—and watched the brain continue to signal the production of the same neurochemicals the drug produced without interruption. And you’ll also read a striking new study that’s a real game changer: It shows that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients were able to dramatically improve their symptoms by taking placebos—even though they knew full well that the medication they were given was a placebo, not an active drug.
Chapter 3 will take you through the physiology of what happens in your brain when the placebo effect is operating. You’ll read that, in one sense, the placebo works because you can embrace or entertain a new thought that you can be well, and then use it to replace the thought that you’ll always be sick. That means you can change your thinking from unconsciously predicting that your future is your same familiar past to beginning to anticipate and expect a new potential outcome. If you agree with this idea, then it means that you’ll have to examine how you think, what the mind is, and how these things affect the body.
I’ll explain that as long as you’re thinking the same thoughts, they’ll lead to the same choices, which cause the same behaviors, which create the same experiences, which produce the same emotions, which in turn drive the same thoughts—so that neurochemically, you stay the same. In effect, you’re reminding yourself of who you think you are. But hold on; you’re not hardwired to be the same way for the rest of your life. I’ll then explain the concept of neuroplasticity and how we now know that the brain is capable of changing throughout our lives, creating new neural pathways and new connections.
Chapter 4 moves into a discussion of the placebo effect in the body, explaining the next step of the physiology of the placebo response. It starts out telling the story of a group of elderly men who attend a weeklong retreat set up by Harvard researchers who ask the men to pretend they’re 20 years younger. By the end of the week, the men had made numerous measurable physiological changes, all turning back the clock on their bodies, and you’ll learn the secret behind how they did it.
To explain that, the chapter also discusses what genes are and how they are signaled in the body. You’ll learn how the relatively new and exciting science of epigenetics has basically torched the old-school idea that your genes are your destiny, by teaching us that the mind truly can signal new genes to behave in new ways. You’ll discover how the body has elaborate mechanisms for turning some genes on and others off, which means that you’re not doomed to express whatever genes you’ve inherited. This means you can learn how to change your neural wiring to signal new genes and create real physical changes. You’ll also read about how our bodies access stem cells—the physical matter that’s behind many placebo-effect miracles—to make new, healthy cells in areas that have been damaged.
Chapter 5 ties the previous two chapters together, explaining how thoughts change your brain and your body. It begins by asking the question “If your environment changes and you then signal new genes in new ways, is it possible to signal the new gene ahead of the changing of the actual environment?” I’ll then explain how you can use a technique called mental rehearsal to combine a clear intention with an elevated emotion (to give the body a sampling of the future experience) in order to experience the new future event in the present moment.
The key is making your inner thoughts more real than the outer environment, because then the brain won’t know the difference between the two and will change to look as if the event has taken place. If you’re able to do this successfully enough times, you’ll transform your body and begin to signal new genes in new ways, producing epigenetic changes—just as though the imagined future event were real. And then you can walk right into that new reality and become the placebo. This chapter not only outlines the science behind how this happens, but also includes stories of many public figures from different walks of life who have used this technique (whether or not they were fully aware of what they were doing at the time) to make their wildest dreams come true.
Chapter 6, which concentrates on the concept of suggestibility, begins with a fascinating but chilling story of how a team of researchers set out to test whether a regular, law-abiding, mentally healthy person who was highly suggestible to hypnosis could be programmed to do something he or she would normally deem unthinkable: shoot a stranger with the intent to kill.
You’ll see that people have differing degrees of suggestibility, and the more suggestible you are, the better able you are to gain access to your subconscious mind. This is key to understanding the placebo effect, because the conscious mind is only 5 percent of who we are. The remaining 95 percent is a set of subconscious programmed states in which the body has become the mind. You’ll learn that you must get beyond the analytic mind and enter into the operating system of your subconscious programs if you want your new thoughts to result in new outcomes and change our genetic destiny, as well as learn how meditation is a powerful tool for doing just that. The chapter ends with a brief discussion of different brain-wave states and which are the most conducive to your becoming more suggestible.
Chapter 7 is all about how attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions change your state of being and create your personality—your personal reality—and how you can shift them to create a new reality. You’ll read about the power that unconscious beliefs exert and have a chance to identify some of those beliefs you’ve been harboring without realizing it. You’ll also read about how the environment and your associative memories can sabotage your ability to change your beliefs.
I’ll explain more fully that in order for you to change your beliefs and perceptions, you must combine a clear intention with an elevated emotion that conditions your body to believe that the future potential that you selected from the quantum field has already happened. The elevated emotion is vital, because only when your choice carries an amplitude of energy that’s greater than the hardwired programs in your brain and the emotional addiction in your body will you be able to change your brain’s circuitry and your body’s genetic expression, as well as recondition your body to a new mind (erasing any trace of the old neurocircuitry and conditioning).
In Chapter 8, I’ll introduce you to the quantum universe, the unpredictable world of the matter and energy that make up the atoms and molecules of everything in the universe, which turn out to really be more energy (which looks like empty space) than solid matter. The quantum model, which states that all possibilities exist in this present moment, is your key to using the placebo effect for healing, because it gives you permission to choose a new future for yourself and then actually observe it into reality. You’ll then understand just how possible it really is to cross the river of change and make the unknown known.
Chapter 9 introduces you to three people from my workshops who have reported some truly remarkable results from using these same techniques to change their health for the better. First, you’ll meet Laurie, who, at age 19, was diagnosed with a rare degenerative bone disease that her doctors told her was incurable. Although the bones in Laurie’s left leg and hip suffered 12 major fractures over several decades, leaving her dependent on crutches for getting around, today she walks perfectly normally, without even needing a cane. Her x-rays show no evidence of any fractures in her bones.
Then I’ll introduce you to Candace, who was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease—a serious thyroid condition with a host of complications—during a time in her life when she was resentful and full of rage. Candace’s doctor told her she’d have to take medication for the rest of her life, but Candace proved him wrong after she eventually was able to turn her condition around. Today, she is totally in love with a brand-new life and takes no medication for her thyroid, which blood tests show is completely normal.
Finally, you’ll meet Joann (the woman mentioned in the Preface), a mother of five who was a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur whom many considered a superwoman—before she collapsed quite suddenly and was diagnosed with an advanced form of multiple sclerosis. Joann’s condition went downhill quickly, and she was eventually unable to move her legs. When she first came to my workshops, she made only small changes, until one day when the woman who hadn’t moved her legs in years walked around the room, completely unassisted, after just one hour-long meditation!
Chapter 10 shares more remarkable stories from workshop participants, along with the brain scans that go with them. You’ll meet Michelle, who healed herself of Parkinson’s disease, and John, a quadriplegic who stood up from his wheelchair after a meditation. You’ll read how Kathy (a CEO living on the fast track) learned to find the present moment and how Bonnie healed herself of fibroids and heavy menstrual bleeding. Finally, you’ll meet Genevieve, who went into such states of bliss in meditation that tears of joy ran down her face, and Maria, whose experience can only be described as having an orgasm in her brain.
I’ll show you the data my team of scientists collected from these people’s brain scans so that you can see the changes we witnessed in real time during the workshops. The best part of all this data is that it proves you don’t have to be a monk or a nun, a scholar, a scientist, or a spiritual leader to accomplish similar feats. You don’t need a Ph.D. or a medical degree. The folks in this book are ordinary people like you. After reading this chapter, you’ll understand that what these people did is not magic or even all that miraculous; they simply learned and applied teachable skills. And if you practice the same skills, you’ll be able to make similar changes.
— Part II of the book is all about meditation. It includes Chapter 11, which outlines some simple preparation steps for meditation and goes over specific techniques you’ll find helpful, and Chapter 12, which gives you step-by- step instructions for using the meditation techniques I teach in my workshops—the very same techniques that workshop participants used to produce the remarkable results you’ll have read about earlier in the book.
I’m happy to say that although we don’t have all the answers yet about harnessing the power of the placebo, all sorts of people are actually using these ideas right now to make extraordinary changes in their lives, the kinds of changes that many others consider practically impossible. The techniques I share in this book need not be limited to healing a physical condition; they can also be applied to improving any aspect of your life. My hope is that this book will inspire you to try these techniques, too, and to make possible in your life the same kind of seemingly impossible changes.
Author’s note: While the stories in this book of the individuals in my workshops who experienced healing are true, their names and certain identifying details have been changed to protect their privacy.