Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work

Discussion in 'Fibromyalgia Main Forum' started by gapsych, Aug 28, 2009.

  1. gapsych

    gapsych New Member

    Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work

    Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D
    Subtle forces can lead intelligent people (both patients and therapists) to think that a treatment has helped someone when it has not. This is true for new treatments in scientific medicine, as well as for nostrums in folk medicine, fringe practices in "alternative medicine," and the ministrations of faith healers.

    Many dubious methods remain on the market primarily because satisfied customers offer testimonials to their worth. Essentially, these people say: "I tried it, and I got better, so it must be effective." The electronic and print media typically portray testimonials as valid evidence. But without proper testing, it is difficult or impossible to determine whether this is so.

    There are at least seven reasons why people may erroneously conclude that an ineffective therapy works:

    1. The disease may have run its natural course. Many diseases are self-limiting. If the condition is not chronic or fatal, the body's own recuperative processes usually restore the sufferer to health. Thus, to demonstrate that a therapy is effective, its proponents must show that the number of patients listed as improved exceeds the number expected to recover without any treatment at all (or that they recover reliably faster than if left untreated). Without detailed records of successes and failures for a large enough number of patients with the same complaint, someone cannot legitimately claim to have exceeded the published norms for unaided recovery.

    2. Many diseases are cyclical. Such conditions as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems normally have "ups and downs." Naturally, sufferers tend to seek therapy during the downturn of any given cycle. In this way, a bogus treatment will have repeated opportunities to coincide with upturns that would have happened anyway.

    3. The placebo effect may be responsible. Through suggestion, belief, expectancy, cognitive reinterpretation, and diversion of attention, patients given biologically useless treatments often experience measurable relief. Some placebo responses produce actual changes in the physical condition; others are subjective changes that make patients feel better even though there has been no objective change in the underlying pathology.

    4. People who hedge their bets credit the wrong thing. If improvement occurs after someone has had both "alternative" and science-based treatment, the fringe practice often gets a disproportionate share of the credit.

    5. The original diagnosis or prognosis may have been incorrect. Scientifically trained physicians are not infallible. A mistaken diagnosis, followed by a trip to a shrine or an "alternative" healer, can lead to a glowing testimonial for curing a condition that would have resolved by itself. In other cases, the diagnosis may be correct but the time frame, which is inherently difficult to predict, might prove inaccurate.

    6. Temporary mood improvement can be confused with cure. Alternative healers often have forceful, charismatic personalities. To the extent that patients are swept up by the messianic aspects of "alternative medicine," psychological uplift may ensue.

    7. Psychological needs can distort what people perceive and do. Even when no objective improvement occurs, people with a strong psychological investment in "alternative medicine" can convince themselves they have been helped. According to cognitive dissonance theory, when experiences contradict existing attitudes, feelings, or knowledge, mental distress is produced. People tend to alleviate this discord by reinterpreting (distorting) the offending information. If no relief occurs after committing time, money, and "face" to an alternate course of treatment (and perhaps to the worldview of which it is a part), internal disharmony can result. Rather than admit to themselves or to others that their efforts have been a waste, many people find some redeeming value in the treatment. Core beliefs tend to be vigorously defended by warping perception and memory. Fringe practitioners and their clients are prone to misinterpret cues and remember things as they wish they had happened. They may be selective in what they recall, overestimating their apparent successes while ignoring, downplaying, or explaining away their failures. The scientific method evolved in large part to reduce the impact of this human penchant for jumping to congenial conclusions. In addition, people normally feel obligated to reciprocate when someone does them a good turn. Since most "alternative" therapists sincerely believe they are helping, it is only natural that patients would want to please them in return. Without patients necessarily realizing it, such obligations are sufficient to inflate their perception of how much benefit they have received.

    Buyer Beware!
    The job of distinguishing real from spurious causal relationships requires well designed studies and logical abstractions from large bodies of data. Many sources of error can mislead people who rely on intuition or informal reasoning to analyze complex events. Before agreeing to any kind of treatment, you should feel confident that it makes sense and has been scientifically validated through studies that control for placebo responses, compliance effects, and judgmental errors. You should be very wary if the "evidence" consists merely of testimonials, self-published pamphlets or books, or items from the popular media.
  2. TeaBisqit

    TeaBisqit Member

    The whole placebo effect is always so strange. But it's always temporary. You think something is helping for a day or two and then, bang, you're right back where you started.

  3. gapsych

    gapsych New Member

    You are absolutely right and that is why it is important that other factors such as a conditions being self limiting such as a cold or being cyclical like our DD also needs be considered.

    Sometimes things are attributed as curing something may be pure coincidence or happens at the same time you would have been feeling better anyway.

    Thanks for pointing this out.

    [This Message was Edited on 08/28/2009]
  4. gapsych

    gapsych New Member

    Not really.

    Yes a doctor might say this, however with scientific medicine the knowledge of whether of not it has the possibility of helping has to be greater than nonscientific treatments. The odds are better. The doctor is being honest as science can not cure everything.

    However, alternative doctors are more likely to tell a patient this will definitely cure you as They make outrageous claims about vitmains, supplements because they are not regulated. They based their claims on anecdotal experiences and say this proves this treatment will work.

    Google CFS and cure and you will come up with thousands of hits. Read these sites. Can all of them be right?

    Anyone can start a website.

    That is not science. It is speculation and sometimes scamming.


  5. Bluebottle

    Bluebottle New Member

    We desperately need a diagnostic test both to prove we are ill and to prove or disprove these supposed called 'cures'
  6. TeaBisqit

    TeaBisqit Member

    I started to study herbal medicine when I was sixteen, since that was when I first started to get sick. And in all these years, that was like half a lifetime ago, more actually. I've found things that helped temporarily, but very little does much.

    Like the things that actually could do something were few and far between. And anything that did work got yanked off the market.

    I remember an herbal lozenge that cured my strep throat. A very long time ago. They stopped making those. Cause of course, it would have put antibiotics out of business for sore throats.

    There was a great herbal diuretic compound made of watermelon seeds and a bunch of other good things, they stopped making that, too. Of course, because it was actually helping me.

    I took so many things over the years, but so many of them didn't do anything. I remember taking tons of vitamin C with rosehips. Didn't do a damn thing.

    Echinacea never did anything for me, nor did Goldenseal. However, Bilberry and Blackberry leaves do work wonderfully on stomach problems.

    Homeopathics, I would have to say, ninety-nine percent of the time they made the problem worse or did nothing at all. And today if I dare try them, they flare me very badly for over ten days at a time. I stay away from those.

    I've tried tons of things. I used to take baths with fresh garlic, lemons, and seasalt because I was hoping it would kill this disease. All it did was make the bathroom and me smell of garlic. :D

    Douching with iodine compounds, only make me queasy.

    Eating raw onions and garlic, only ended up bugging my stomach. However, squeezing a warmed onion's juice into an earache did help me. It's gross and smells, but it really took the pain away.

    I could go on and on with the things I've tried. Not much does anything. And as I said, the few things that do are few and far between.
  7. springwater

    springwater Active Member

    My father had been given Echinacea by an American man. I remember my father showing me
    the bottle and saying 'this medicine, you just have to take it as soon as you think youre
    starting a cold, and it promptly goes away.

    I have no doubt about the efficacy of this herb.

    God Bless
  8. tuba

    tuba New Member

    Thanks Gapsych,
    I have fibro as well as acute pain from a traumatic accident. Thank you for sharing this post. I totally agree with Dr. Beyerstein. I myself have set up studies along with "blind" studies. Show me the hard science. Julie
  9. gapsych

    gapsych New Member

    Thanks. I love your quote "Show Me The Hard Science". Maybe I should get a tee shirt with that on the front!!! :)