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The placebo puzzle: examining the discordant space between biomedical science and illness/healing

Authors


Shawn Pohlman, Department of Nursing, Maryville University, 650 Maryville University Drive, St Louis, Missouri 63141, USA. E-mail: <spohlman@maryville.edu>

Abstract

POHLMAN S, CIBULKA NJ, PALMER JL, LORENZ RA and SMITHBATTLE L. Nursing Inquiry 2013; 20: 71–81
The placebo puzzle: examining the discordant space between biomedical science and illness/healing

The placebo response presents an enigma to biomedical science: how can ‘inert’ or ‘sham’ procedures reduce symptoms and produce physiological changes that are comparable to prescribed treatments? In this study, we examine this puzzle by explicating the discordant space between the prevailing biomedical paradigm, which focuses on a technical understanding of diagnosis and treatment, and a broader understanding of illness and healing as relational and embodied. Although biomedical achievements are impressive, the knowledge resulting from this paradigm is limited by its ontological and epistemological assumptions. When the body and world are objectified, illness meanings, therapeutic relationships, and healing practices are dismissed or distorted. In spite of a robust critique of the tenets of biomedicine for guiding practice, the biomedical paradigm retains a tenacious hold on evidence-based medicine and nursing, downplaying our clinical understanding of the sentient body, patients’ life-worlds, and illness and healing. In reality, skilled nurses rely on multiple forms of knowledge in providing high-quality care to particular patients. Clinically wise nurses integrate their experience and knowledge of patients’ priorities, fears, and illness trajectories along with biomedical findings to make astute judgments and promote health and healing.

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