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Positive Psychology

Can Positive Thinking Help You Heal?

Lissa Rankin, MD discusses a CNN article on positive thinking.

A big part of the book I'm writing Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013) is about how positive belief, hope, and expectation can trigger self-healing superpowers that manifest physiologically in the body, so I was delighted to read this article on CNN by one of my heroes, Dr. Deepak Chopra.

In this article, Dr. Chopra (can I call him Deepak?) calls attention to the warring schools of thought between the power of positive thinking camp and the conventional medical community regarding whether positive thoughts can affect the health of the body.

Some studies performed on very sick cancer patients have shown that it can't. In fact, one of those studies was performed on the patients under the care of my friend and fellow Owning Pink blogger, Dr. Bernie Siegel, author of Love, Medicine & Miracles. When patients in his positive-thinking ECaP program for cancer patientswere studied, they were found to have no higher rates of cancer cure than those who didn't complete the program.

So does this mean positive thinking doesn't work? It's enough to confuse anyone.

What does Deepak Chopra think?

Dr. Deepak writes:

Doctors are confused, too. It has always been part of a doctor's kit bag to tell patients to keep their spirits up. Until a few decades ago, it was standard not to acquaint a dying patient with the gravity of his condition, which implies an unspoken agreement that hearing bad news isn't good for patients.

At the same time, doctors want to protect their profession, so few want to cross the line and support the notion that how you think can work as powerfully as "real" medicine.

Let's see if some of this confusion can be cleared up.

First of all, thinking is "real" medicine, as proven by the placebo effect. When given a sugar pill in place of a prescription drug, an average of 30% of subjects will show a positive response. What causes this response isn't a physical substance but the activity of the mind-body connection. Expectations are powerful. If you think you've been given a drug that will make you better, often that is enough to make you better.

But if studies showed that positive thinking didn't effect cure rates, what do we make of this? Dr. Deepak says:

On the plus side, the studies that debunk positive thinking deal with very sick patients struggling to recover from major diseases. They do not comment on how positive thinking might prevent disease or how it might affect someone in the very early stages of illness. The real point isn't to rescue a dying patient but to maintain wellness... The upshot is that medicine cannot be definitive on how mood affects wellness. But if I wanted to enhance a state of wellness before symptoms of illness appeared, there is much to be gained and no risks involved in trying to reach the best state of mind possible.

Healing Vs. Curing

After reading about the study on his patients, I emailed Bernie Siegel and wrote, "It seems to me that the equivocation over whether support groups help cancer patients in randomized controlled trials is a bit silly, because while you can study cure rates, you can't really study rates of healing, and as you and I both know, healing and curing are different.

I would argue that your patients - even if they died - probably died healed because of the love and support. But that's just my two cents."

Beyond Healing

But I still believe that love, support, and positive belief go far beyond healing and can actually manifest cure - and there's loads of science to prove it, as I'm finding with my research. It's tough to study support groups and outcomes related to them. How do you know if the people are really believing they can get well? How can you measure these things?

I'm trying to get to the bottom of these very issues in my own mind, so I can help translate them for you. But I love that this conversation is even happening on websites like CNN and from the mouths of doctors like Deepak. Things are shifting. There is resistance from the medical community, of course, but there is also a softening that I'm already starting to feel and witness, even from the private emails doctors are sending me.

We are ready for this shift. It is time.

What Do You Believe?

Do we have the power to heal ourselves? Does the mind affect the body? Can positive thinking alter physiology? Share your thoughts.

What if I told you caring for your body was the LEAST important part of your health? Watch my TEDx talk here to learn the MOST important part.

Thinking positively,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of, Pink Medicine Revolutionary, motivational speaker, and author of What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.

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