Mind over matter: can placebos help in curing cancer?

Can the mind bend metal just because it believes it can?

I feel very strange, standing in a circle in a big room with 30 people holding spoons in front of them like starving people at a wedding buffet. But we are not there to eat. The group of people, including a scientist, a businessman, a computer software programmer and a documentary maker, are there to bend spoons.

Yes, bend spoons. And forks if we want to. In fact people have been known to bring a heavy soup ladle and a hammer to this internationally run workshop led by Canadian clinical hypnotherapist and author of Essential Mind Matters Jeannine Sanderson.

In the room are some true believers, some curious people and a few cynics, including a man in a brown jacket who has been dragged here by his wife and keeps rolling his eyes.

I keep in mind that master spoon-bender and magician Uri Geller was widely ridiculed for what sceptics claimed was a party trick. Before the exercise we are given a lecture about the healing power of the mind. That we have the power to do many impossible things and access a powerful energy field around us. But to do this we have to bypass logic and go straight to the subconscious mind, which dominates us and is responsible for more than 90 per cent of our body and mind functions.

This is the notion that has brought me here. Can the mind bend metal just because it believes it can? If so, what secret properties do we possess?

Doctors and scientists have had astounding results with pain control and healing when the logic of our critical brain is satisfied by a belief or trust in the authority figure and pill. It’s called the placebo effect — belief equals results — and it’s used by emergency staff in Israel and US, who are counselled on how to talk in front of accident victims at death’s door. The words spoken can make all the difference to a person in a highly suggestible, unconscious alpha or delta brain wave state.

Marc Cohen, a medical doctor, president of the Australasian Wellness Association and professor of health sciences at RMIT University, says he once used to administer “happy pills” to people after he’d provided first aid, telling them it would make them feel great. They were just lollies, but he was amazed people kept returning citing the potent effects. “We haven’t even touched the surface of placebo and what the brain is capable of,” he says.

He says rigorous trials have proved that patients given a morphine placebo not only have reduced pain but all the side effects too. “The physiology actually changes itself in reaction to a belief; innate abilities are awakened,” he says. But beliefs, too, block what is possible. If open to it, can we melt metal? Cohen, who has never tried it, says the potential is there.

“The amount of energy at our disposal, just through basic physiology, is phenomenal, up to 400 watts for an hour for athletic people, but triple or quadruple that in short extreme bursts of energy, equivalent to a hairdryer.”

So are our bodies the batteries of the future? “We don’t fully understand how to harness and direct it yet, but theoretically we hold an amazing capacity to channel this energy to heal the body,” he says.

Sanderson uses the power of belief to help patients suffering from mental diseases, addictions and strokes. The bending is more to make the point of what energy and power is available to our minds.

In the workshop is documentary-maker Michelle Mahrer. She has just finished a film, A Quest to Heal — Beyond the Physical, which is due for limited release in August.

She accompanied her friend Lya, suffering from advanced cancer, and another friend with HIV to controversial faith-healer John of God in Brazil, and tracked their journey of transformation through their belief that they would be cured by his spiritual energy. The same mysterious energy that Sanderson is claiming can heat the hands up.

In Taoism Chinese masters call it chi, and it can help karate chop through concrete blocks. It is ki in Japan, associated with the ancient healing art reiki.

I won’t spoil the unfolding of the film’s story except to say certain cases will provoke medical interest. I saw the medical results of one friend with osteoporosis who flummoxed his doctor by significantly increasing his bone mass without drugs or exercise after some reiki treatments.

Neuroscientists showcased in Norman Doidge’s bestsellers The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing proved people can grow new neurons, and neural pathways. Stroke victims, people with diseases, can walk again, talk, perform miracles by “changing their minds” through meditation and a variety of reprogramming, re-association or opening techniques and exercises.

In India a few years ago, I was making a documentary on the elections, and I interviewed prominent spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, teacher of Prime Minster Narendra Modi. A science graduate with an estimated 20 million followers, he told me of a woman, blind since birth, who came to see him. She said: “Guruji (my teacher) heal me.” He put his hand on her head. She fell on the floor, but when she arose she could see.

Expecting him to lay claim to the miracle as do many gurus who turn water into wine, I got the opposite. “Can you believe such a thing?” he said shaking his head. “Because she believed I could make her see, she was cured. The mind is a remarkable thing. Scientists must study more to understand this healing power we have.”

Self-healing is controversial point. Many people with cancer or incurable diseases feel like failures because they eat well, meditate, believe in God or divine energy, but can’t heal themselves.

My friend did everything in the medical and New Age world and died because her aggressive type of cancer is a certain death sentence.

So why do some heal against the odds? Genes, drug interactions, type of cancer or timing? Or is there a universal energy or internal healing mechanism some can tap into? If so, how do we harness it?

Back to the room. I’ve gone around feeling the metal. The trick could well be that people don’t bring their expensive cutlery to be bent, and discount department store stock is flimsy. Apart from a few noted pieces, the rest are quite strong.

Sanderson makes us do a whole lot of strange things, such as jumping, twirling, clapping (later she admits it’s a hypnotic method to bypass the critical conscious mind). Within two seconds my sceptical girlfriend screams and holds up her bent spoon. She says it felt like hot putty in her hands and she got a fright.

The cynic gasps too. He has bent his spoon over twice like a crumbled paper. The man to my right has twirled two sturdy spoons together like a string in a few seconds. His hands barely moved.

My spoon has not bent an inch. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t always happen,” Sanderson reassures me, like a woman to a disheartened lover. “You can’t do it with willpower, you have to surrender and relax.” But I certainly felt the heat around me. And no one was able to bend their spoons back very far without considerable force.

Part of Sanderson’s technique is a slap sound we make that shocks our mental state to “open to receive new input” before we bend. She says accessing the unconscious mind is the key to eradicating limited beliefs and habits. The critical conscious mind won’t let us see what we don’t believe is true in the deep recesses of our minds, often implanted there since infancy; it’s called mind blindness.

The art is using self-hypnosis, meditation or reprogramming ourselves just before sleep and on awakening using techniques she outlines in her book including visualising, imagination, reassociation to reset beliefs so they will percolate up and be accepted by the conscious critical brain.

For me the verdict remains out. Journalists aren’t easily parted from their critical brain.

Although in secret, in the dead of night, I stand by the kitchen drawer, stroking spoons and still trying to get it up.


Reader comments on this site are moderated before publication to promote lively and civil debate. We encourage your comments but submitting one does not guarantee publication. We publish hundreds of comments daily, and if a comment is rejected it is likely because it does not meet with our comment guidelines, which you can read here. No correspondence will be entered into if a comment is declined.

29 people listening



“Journalists aren’t easily parted from their critical brain.”. I’m more likely to believe in spoon bending than the preceding quote.



Makes a lot of sense.  Look at the aboriginal myth where they point a bone at someone and say he’ll die – he believes it and so he dies cos he doesn’t let his brain challenge the situation.



From the perspective of the macro universe it’s difficult to comprehend bending spoons. Below that, your spoons, and your brain, are made of atoms which are mostly made of nothing. 99% of atoms are nothingness, empty space. While you ponder the fact that you just lost 99% of yourself, below about 1 nanometer then everything else we know to be true about our bodies and the world, becomes questionable at best. We are blind to the true nature of ‘reality’. “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes …” Morpheus, The Matrix.



Who supplied the spoons, Ruth? And are you sure they were stainless steel rather than a more responsive metal alloy? James Randi has offered a million dollars to anyone able to bend spoons through sheer mental effort. It might be time to cash in.


One Response to Mind over matter: can placebos help in curing cancer?

  1. lilian roth 3 June 2017 at 2:17 pm #

    Hi Ruth excellent article and almost believable- but- is it workable?, I think the mind is a mysterious thing and we can help ourselves , but in terminal illness, it does seem impossible in most cases to cure an illness that is taking over your body! It is a wonderful theory and must be explored further, but, and that is a big BUT, will it work for everyone, the mind boggles !! regards.

Leave a Reply