Ritual in Western Medicine and Its Role in Placebo Healing

John S. Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Ritual has long been thought to play an important role in the healing processes used by ancient and non-Western healers. In this paper, I suggest that practitioners of Western medicine also interact with patients in a highly ritualized manner. Medical rituals, like religious rituals, serve to alter the meaning of an experience by naming and circumscribing unknown elements of that experience and by enabling patients' belief in a treatment and their expectancy of healing from that treatment. These are all critical elements necessary to mobilize the potent placebo effects reported elsewhere to result from doctor-patient interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-33
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Religion and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2003


  • Medical ritual
  • Physician-priest
  • Placebo


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