Today, I underwent a very painful (but not at all risky!) medical procedure to drain an abscess. I had a short daydream about what would happen if a nurse tried to use healing touch on me.
Nurse hovers hands above me, moves them back and forth.
"Uh, what are you doing?"
"I'm manipulating your bioenergetic field with my hands. I'm a trained practitioner of healing touch."
"You're using healing touch? On me? I know the placebo effect is most effective on subjective symptoms such as pain, but do you realize that I don't even slightly believe in the effectiveness of healing touch? The placebo effect won't do me any good."
"It's not the placebo effect. Studies have shown..."
"Stop it already! It's stressing me out!"
I imagine healing touch rather than any other alternative medicine because we talked about it a lot at UCLA. I remember at the UCLA hospital, they allowed someone to give a lecture on healing touch, and we were pretty mad about this. She also swung a pendulum with her hand to assess patients' energy fields. I find myself wondering how this reduces patient stress, knowing that your nurse practices spiritual medicine in addition to real medicine.
Of course, my daydream is completely counterfactual, so there's no reason to think that's actually what would happen. However, I do remember hearing that healing touch is also practiced on sleeping patients. Why? Even if we felt the practice was justified by the positive placebo effects, the placebo effect is not going to work unless the patients are at least aware that healing touch is being used.
(Also, part of the placebo effect, though not all, is a self-reporting bias. Patients want their medicine to work, so they report less pain, even if they are not actually experiencing less pain.)