Jens Gaab
Professor Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Faculty of Psychology, University of Basel, Switzerland.

From good to bad to good: Why the placebo is necessary for treatment

The placebo has experienced a turbulent career in the past 500 years. Since then, it has been employed to find truth (usually defined as the absence of untruth), calm the restless, ease the pain, make money and gain influence. Interestingly, its connotation shifted according to the aims, while the driving force – the effects of placebos – remained the same. However and regardless to its connotation, the placebo – or more precisely: the forces that are operationalized by placebos – are inherent components of treatments and thus should be part of the understanding of a „good treatment“. Furthermore, the placebo and its effects not only exemplify the importance of contextual factors and processes, but also serve as a reminder of the ethical dimension of a good treatment. This not only has important repercussions on what to do, but also on who defines a treatment to be good. Thus, the placebo and its effects are not per se „something to control for“ or „sham, fake and deceit“, but they mark and define the space for necessary and basic (and sometimes even sufficient) components of what could be considered a „good treatment“. This understanding of the placebo and its function for good treatment will be exemplified empirically and theoretical for psychotherapy.



Jens Gaab is Full Professor for Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Basel, Switzerland, where he and his team are determined and eager to examine the placebo and its effects in different settings, populations and interventions, to explore the relationship between placebo and psychotherapy and to test ethically acceptable ways to harness the placebo and its effects.