Posted by Josh Gibson, M.D. on Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What makes treatment work? How much is about who the provider is and how much is about what the provider does? Research into psychotherapy, much of it from the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that much more than you’d expect beneficial change comes from the therapeutic relationship more than the method of treatment.

In medical school, doctors learn about the power of placebo. Research has yet to fully elucidate the exact mechanism of the placebo effect, though core cognitive processes like learning and social cognition play a high level role and neurotransmitters like opioids and dopamine factor in at a molecular level.

Psychotherapy isn’t a placebo, but the factors at play in the treatment relationship call upon similar parts of the social brain in both provider and patient. The feeling of connected understanding and support with shared goals is at the heart of the therapeutic relationship. This alignment develops, fed sometimes by the power of placebo from either the referring provider (“See Dr. Smith; she’s done amazing work with some of my patients just like you”), a friend (“Dr. Smith really helped turn my friend Steve’s life in the right direction”), or even the web (positive online reviews or other content). 

How can we further foster the power of relationships and can technology help? Moving from private practice into health technology this past year has given me some new insights into some of the pros and cons. The potential benefits are great, but there are many potential risks as well. Through this blog, I’ll share with you my personal point of view (not meant to represent the opinions of any employer or client, to be clear) at the intersection of relationships and technology.

Tags: relationships technology placebo "treatment efficacy" 


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