Is “hope” a placebo?

After class it occured to me that Ehrenreich’s article, Pathologies of Hope, is related to the Mattingly article we read as well as to the Cushman book. Mattingly described a community of sufferers who were holding themselves together through hope. She spoke of how hoping was not necessarily easy, but rather required willing. We read the article primarily as an example of participatory action research; however, the content seems related to our discussion today about placebos. Does hope work like a placebo — allowing one to interpret situations differently and thus to act and feel better? Ehrenreich says that hope can be pathological, that it can stand in the way of making important substantive changes in the status quo or in ones personal life. This sounds like some of the doctors Mattingly describes who advised patients to accept their situation and adjust their lives accordingly as soon as possible. Ehrenreich says she became interested in this topic because when she was diagnosed with breast cancer she found the breast cancer support groups obsessed with hope, and she felt that their approach actually stood in the way of appropriate adjustment by those with tumours. Martin-Baro makes a somewhat similar argument about evangelical (but not other people-centred) religions operating in Latin America in his Writings for a Liberation Psychology.

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