From "Does it work?" to "What is 'it'?": Implications for Voodoo, Psychotherapy, Pop-Psychology, Regular, and Alternative Medicine


In this article, a "healing method" (HM) is defined as any method intended to improve health through non-somatic means. For many healing methods, especially within the realm of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), there is mounting debate over the question "Does it work?" Indeed, this seems to be the primary question for most stakeholders. Yet in light of the well-documented effects of nonspecific factors, particularly empathy and placebo (EP), we contend that the basic question is: "What is 'it'?" Without answering this question, scientific progress is impossible, and research costs will spiral upwards without producing tangible results. Furthermore, it is impossible to characterize the potential side effects of healing methods without a full understanding of the underlying mechanisms through which they act. It is generally acknowledged that many healing methods are sociohistorical artifacts, based on underlying theoretical models that are divorced from established science. There is a need for healing method research that is accommodating of such methods' fluid nature while being congruent with accepted scientific practices. "It works" is no longer an adequate justification for any healing method, as "it" often turns out to be a combination of nonspecific factors.