Lupus and the Healing Power of Belief

You may hold the key to feeling better simply by believing.  Whether through spiritual faith or confidence in medicine, belief can have a powerful healing effect.


Introduction to Lupus and the Power of Belief

 Our beliefs in ourselves, our faith in others, in spirituality or in the power of medicine, all can have a strong influence on the course of our disease. These beliefs not only affect our emotional state but also our physical well being.

Having faith and belief can look different from person to person. Some may have strong spiritual or religious faith and believe in a higher being – they may trust that God or some other power will keep them healthy and safe and believe in the power of prayer. Of course, having faith or being spiritual does not mean that you have to belong to an organized religion or consider yourself religious. It may mean that when life challenges you or those you love, you may turn to practices such as meditation or mindfulness to find meaning and inner peace.

In Western medical research, the belief in medications has been seen in what is often called, the placebo effect. A placebo is something that someone thinks is real, but isn’t – it can be substituted for a real medication or treatment.  In the clinical blind studies of many drugs, some participants will unknowingly receive a placebo instead of the actual one being tested. Researchers use this technique to measure the efficacy of the real drug. However, it is not uncommon for some participants who have been given the placebo to report feeling relief from their symptoms.

If you are coping with lupus, there may be so many things you want to believe and have faith in:

  • the healthcare system and your practitioners;
  • treatments and medications;
  • the ability to understand the disease;
  • your ability to cope; and
  • the potential for your body to heal.

That’s a tall order. If your trust in any one of these things falters, it can weaken your faith in the others as well, and you may be less able to cope effectively. Psychologist Peter Halligan writes, “many of our attitudes, behaviours…and ability to cope can be attributed to…held beliefs.” Your resolve may weaken from time to time, and you may have trouble believing in your own resiliency. You may start to feel the impact of this despair throughout your body as symptoms may begin to flare. It is impressive how much of an emotional and physical hold our beliefs can have on us and what can happen when they wane.


The Biology and Psychology of Belief

 Studies have shown that the power of belief not only affects emotional health but also physical well-being. If you believe in the ability of your medications and treatment plans to work, you will be prone to stick with them and experience the benefits. If you don’t believe that they will work or let the fear of the unknown grab you that may discourage you from even trying.

The same goes for having trust and faith in the healthcare system and your providers. If you have confidence in your providers, chances are you’ll follow their advice and prescribed treatments. You will also probably work together to build a stronger patient-practitioner relationship based on honest, open communication. Research has shown that individuals who are in a communicative and trusting relationship with their healthcare practitioners report experiencing the following:

  • healthier habits and better emotional health;
  • increased drug efficacy and symptoms improvement;
  • improved function and more effective pain control;
  • improved blood pressure levels;
  • stricter adherence to treatment plans and more patient involvement; and
  • overall satisfaction with healthcare increased loyalty to practitioners;

While individuals in these studies didn’t always experience better objective outcomes, subjective outcomes, such as pain, fatigue, and stress did improve. They reported feeling better holistically and better able to cope with their symptoms.


How can I improve my attitude and my lupus symptoms?

Access Mental Health Support

Belief begins within you. Again, psychologist Peter Halligan assures us that “the main purpose of belief is to provide meaning about matters that have to do with the ideas we hold of ourselves.” If you don’t have faith or belief in your own abilities, it’s difficult to trust in anything or anyone else. Working with a mental health practitioner can help you through the rough spots and gain greater self-awareness. Your attitude may improve along with your confidence in yourself, those treating your lupus, and the treatments themselves. If you can believe in your abilities, your intuition, and your resiliency, you can approach your healthcare with more assurance, confidence, and control.

Educate Yourself

Lupus is a complicated disease to understand. It’s no wonder you may feel overwhelmed by the information you receive. Instead of feeling powerless, take the opportunity to learn what you can about what is particularly bothersome for you. Start by reading articles and blogs that are easier to understand than academic and clinical journals – the KFL blog is a great place to start. Start formulating questions you may have, and if you can’t find the answers, speak with a healthcare practitioner you trust. Reach out to others you may know and trust who may be good resources for helping you disseminate information. Some of your fears may abate, and you may start to feel some relief. You may also be more willing to try new medications and treatments, which may surprise you with their efficacy if you have a better understanding of them and less fear.

Communicate

You should feel comfortable talking openly and honestly with your healthcare practitioners about how lupus affects you, your symptoms, and your fears. Don’t be afraid to speak up – they need to know if something isn’t working to have the opportunity to fix it! Most good practitioners want you to have autonomy when making decisions and choosing care. They want you to take equal responsibility for your health and well-being by building a solid relationship with them. However, if don’t have faith in a practitioner, the relationship will never blossom, but your distrust will, which only prolongs relief. Your practitioners should appreciate your engagement and willingness to take a more active role in your care. If they don’t, it’s probably time to find someone who will – be the one who is truly in charge of your wellness. As Susan Goold, M.D. writes, “trust in the healer is essential to healing itself.”


In Conclusion

Changing your perspective from within by using some of these ideas can help you to recover and maintain your faith and belief in yourself and your healthcare. By embracing the practices mentioned in this article and showing yourself compassion, you can improve your attitude, get better control of your symptoms, actually feel better, and rebuild your belief in not only yourself, but in the overall management of your lupus as well.

 

References

Birkhauer, J., Gaab, J., Kossowsky, J., Hasler, S., Krummenacher, P., Werner, C., & Heike, G. (2017). Trust in the health care profession and health outcome: a meta-analysis. PlusOne. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0170988. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0170988

Chandra, S., Mohammadnezhad, M., & Ward, P. (2018). Trust and communication in a doctor-patient relationship: a literature review. Journal of Healthcare Communications, 3(36). doi: 10.4172/2472-1654.100146. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Masoud_Mohammadnezhad2/publication/327575093_Trust_and_Communication_in_a_Doctor-_Patient_Relationship_A_Literature_Review/links/5ca3d2efa6fdcc12ee8ed438/Trust-and-Communication-in-a-Doctor-Patient-Relationship-A-Literature-Review.pdf

Goold, S. (2002). Trust, distrust and trustworthiness. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 17(1), 79-81. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.2002.11132.x. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1495000/

Halligan, P. (2007). Belief and illness. The British Psychological Society, 20(6), 358-361. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-20/edition-6/belief-and-illness

 

Author: Liz Heintz

Liz Heintz is a medical research writer who received her BA in Communications, Advocacy, and Relational Communications from Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego, Oregon. She most recently worked for several years in the healthcare industry. A native of San Francisco, California, Liz now calls the beautiful Pacific Northwest home.

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All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views expressed here do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your healthcare practitioner with any specific questions or concerns.