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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 12360

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Journal Article

Furukawa TA, Watanabe N, Omori IM, Churchill R.
Can pill placebo augment cognitive-behavior therapy for panic disorder?
BMC Psychiatry 2007 Dec 20; 7:(73):


In a number of drug and psychotherapy comparative trials, psychotherapy-placebo combination has been assumed to represent psychotherapy. Whether psychotherapy plus pill placebo is the same as psychotherapy alone is an empirical question which however has to date never been examined systematically.

We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that directly compared cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) alone against CBT plus pill placebo in the treatment of panic disorder.

Extensive literature search was able to identify three relevant RCTs. At the end of the acute phase treatment, patients who received CBT plus placebo had 26% (95%CI: 2 to 55%) increased chances of responding than those who received CBT alone. At follow-up the difference was no longer statistically significant (22%, 95%CI: -10% to 64%).

The act of taking a pill placebo may enhance the placebo effect already contained in the effective psychotherapeutic intervention during the acute phase treatment. Theoretically this is an argument against the recently claimed null hypothesis of placebo effect in general and clinically it may point to some further room for enhancing the psychotherapeutic approach for panic disorder.


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Cases of wilful misrepresentation are a rarity in medical advertising. For every advertisement in which nonexistent doctors are called on to testify or deliberately irrelevant references are bunched up in [fine print], you will find a hundred or more whose greatest offenses are unquestioning enthusiasm and the skill to communicate it.

The best defence the physician can muster against this kind of advertising is a healthy skepticism and a willingness, not always apparent in the past, to do his homework. He must cultivate a flair for spotting the logical loophole, the invalid clinical trial, the unreliable or meaningless testimonial, the unneeded improvement and the unlikely claim. Above all, he must develop greater resistance to the lure of the fashionable and the new.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963