What do relationships have to do with my health?

“It’s all about relationships.”

That’s the “elevator” training I often gave to my staff when I was a manager. It’s a foundational principle they needed to understand because relationships bring results. If they didn’t understand and apply this principle they weren’t going to be successful.

Building relationships isn’t horse trading or politics.

It’s establishing a rapport that engenders understanding, trust, compassion, and a conviction that you care for the other person. It’s being willing to help them in their time of need, and knowing that others will help you too.

History is rife with examples of businesses and professions not understanding how important relationships are. And history is full of examples where it’s inherent in an organization’s culture.

Research is now finding that “relationships” are at the core of a more complex dynamic that has a significant impact on health. These are called “therapeutic relationships” and they directly affect the effectiveness of drugs.

The impact of the therapeutic relationship on drug efficacy didn’t surface until the last few years. It had long been assumed that drugs were effective for two basic reasons. Either the chemicals in the drug caused a physiological change, or the patient was “tricked” into thinking he was better, though all other clinical indications said he wasn’t.

Even as far back as the nineteenth century, medical research by Mary Baker Eddy on homeopathy led her to the conclusion that the homeopathic attenuations were acting as placebos rather than having a bonafide pharmaceutical effect on her patients.

Present day researchers such as Irving Kirsch, Associate Director of the Placebo Studies Program at the Harvard Medical School, are finding that there is a third very potent reason drugs work. The recipient’s relationship with the person caring for them, or administering the drug, is therapeutic in and of itself. It doesn’t matter which drug they are given, whether a placebo or a bonafide pharmaceutical. Randomized clinical trials studying placebos are showing this to be true.

“The most important ingredient in any placebo is the doctor’s bedside manner…”, so says Steve Silberman*, an award-winning science writer. [T]he care and attention of clinicians… have been found in many…studies to be crucial for eliciting placebo effects.

Getting to the root of how the placebo works is adding dimension to our understanding of the mind-body relationship. As we continue to probe deeper, I anticipate the research will lead to a more substantive “therapeutic relationship” – i.e. the health benefits of a therapeutic relationship with the Divine.

Eddy’s research into homeopathy and placebos eventually led her to this conclusion: “The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment, such as peace, patience in tribulation, and a priceless sense of the dear Father’s loving-kindness.”

In my own experience I have found that nurturing a relationship with a spiritual source brings goodness and health into my life. And I’ve found the best way for me to care for and develop this relationship is through prayer. It skips the placebo altogether.

Research has shown that those who pray daily and nurture their therapeutic relationship with the Divine, are healthier and live longer.

Yes, it’s all about relationships.


* Silberman, Steve, Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why. Wired Magazine, August 24, 2009.

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    Karla Hackney

    A lifelong resident of Oregon, Karla Hackney writes about the connection between spirituality and health from her perspective as a Christian Science healer. She also serves as the media and legislative ... Read Full
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