Las week, I posted a piece about the placebo effect and how it's very existence turns the tenants of western medicine on their corrupt, cash-driven heads. Well, here's a true story from my early days as a clinical social worker.

It was the late 1970's, and I was assigned the case of "Erina," a 6-year old girl living in the foster home of a very lovely, elderly couple. Erina had been diagnosed as epileptic and "mildly retarded," not a politically incorrect label at the time. She was being prescribed Dilantin on a daily basis for her epileptic seizures, and was enrolled in a special elementary school for children with what they called "minimal brain dysfunction" back then. Erina's medication dosage was due to be increased because she was still having seizures.

Shortly after I got the case, I made a home visit, and witnessed one of Erina's "seizures." Something wasn't right. I'd seen epileptic seizures before, and by comparison, Erina's looked very controlled, almost contrived. I asked the foster parents if Erina had ever bitten her tongue or banged her head, etc., while in the throws of the seizures. "No," was their unqualified response.

I did a little research, digging up the older case record from the city agency that referred Erina to our foster care agency. (The old file was literally in the basement of the agency's building.) What I read was a horrific story of severe child abuse during Erina's infancy and toddler years - burns, laceration in her vagina... enough said. My wheels were turning. What if Erina was suffering from emotional and mental trauma, not epilepsy and retardation.

Fortunately, I had a very open-minded supervisor at the time, and when I asked him if we could conduct an experiment, based on my intuition and the findings in the old case file, he agreed to advocate for me. We somehow managed to convince the skeptical consulting psychiatrist on Erina's case to substitute a placebo for the Dilantin, and to allow me to do play therapy with the girl for a while.

Cut to the end of the story - within a year's time, Erina was no longer having "seizures," and she was performing quite well in a mainstream public elementary school, her diagnoses of retardation and epilepsy ultimately removed.

Three decades later, I still think of Erina every time I hear or read something about the placebo effect. It's odd how that phrase makes it seem so much like an odd occurrence, an anomaly, but it's not. We create our reality, including our health, from our beliefs. "Patients" respond to their own inner beliefs and the beliefs of their guardians and authority figures - i.e. - parents, doctors and teachers. In Erina's case, a belief in her illness was replaced by a belief in her health, and so, she healed.

End of story.

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