You Are The Placebo: Summary & Review

you are the placebo

In You Are The Placebo (2014) author Joe Dispenza teaches readers to use their own mind to have the same effect as a placebo: health benefits without drugs.

Bullet Summary

  • Placebo often work better than drugs – and we can be our own placebo
  • We can’t change the DNA code but we can change the expression with our thoughts
  • When you vividly imagine what you want to happen with emotions you are rewiring your brain and reshaping your genes
  • Practice gratitude for what you want to happen in your life

Full Summary

About the Author: Joe Dispenza has no Wikipedia page, but we know he is a chiropractor, the author of several books on meditation and self-healing, and somewhat of a self-help guru.


The central idea behind “You Are The Placebo” is that, since Placebos do work by affecting our minds, we can learn to act on our own bodies the same way a placebo works.

Crazy Placebo Stories

Much of the book, and especially the beginning, is about crazy stories of placebo effects, both positive and negative effects.

For example, a man diagnosed with cancer and told he was going to live only a few more dies, soon died.
But the autopsy revealed that it was not cancer and neither pneumonia he had contracted that killed him.
Basically, the man died because everyone around thought he was going to die.

Another example is a group of elderly who improved their health by immersing themselves in the atmosphere of the years when they were young.
Simply thinking and feeling young, makes them younger.

My Note: Good stories, but not statistics
Stories are great and they were all impressive. However, stories are also misleading -read “How to Lie With Statistics“-. 

I would have preferred some general statistics as well.

Why Your Mind Can Change Your Body

Joe Dispenza says that if you can envision a future with full conviction, you can change the expression of your genes, reorganize your cells and change and heal yourself.

The author also mentions quantum physics and, since matter and mind are not separate, it’s scientific that you can change matter with your thoughts.

You Are The Placebo Meditation

Your meditation should last between 45 minutes and one hour.

If you need to do something later, set an alarm 10 minutes before you need to get going so you don’t end abruptly.
The timer will also help you to get rid of the time distraction: once you set the time, forget about both the time and your task list.

To change your mind, your meditative experience must be greater than the past experiences that are conditioning you.
You must feel inspired, invincible, and get goosebumps.
It’s more important to believe that your prayers have been answered than to do it every day.

These are the meditation steps:

  1. Induction for 10 to 15 mins (relax and get into an alpha state, focus on “space” instead of things, don’t visualize but try to sense, for example where your nose is)
  2. Stay in the present moment for 10 to 15 mins (disconnect from your body, from past and future to go where all possibilities exist)
  3. Change your beliefs for 20 to 30 mins (make new decisions with such intensity that their power is great than your neuro-conditioning, “your task is to move into your new state of being” and you should get up that you feel completely different)

If it sounds fuzzy, well, the book’s explanation was fuzzy for me.
Especially for the third part, it wasn’t very clear.

If you’re not experienced Dispenza recommends you do the first part for a week, then one and two for a second week, and then all together in the third week.

Also, read:

you are the placebo

You Are The Placebo Criticism

I haven’t found much on the web regarding Joe Dispenza.
This website is highly disparaging but offers little proof.

David Gorsky, Ph.D., suggests that using a placebo without medicine to alter physiology can be dangerous.
He says that subjective improvement sometimes stands in the way of objective non-improvement, which is idiotic in cases in which we have good medicine to treat the issue.
That makes a lot of sense.
He says that a placebo without lying to the patient has been ineffective so far.

Of course, that might not necessarily mean it will stay the same, or that it cannot work in a few cases. And if it can work in a few cases, maybe we can increase the chances that it will.

That’s basically the idea behind You Are the Placebo.

My opinion is that the science behind “You Are The Placebo” is spotty.
Dispenza repeats “neurons that fire together wire together”, which is a well-known neuro-phenomenon, but his interpretation of quantum mechanics to self-healing seemed much less scientific to me.

But hey, one doesn’t necessarily need science to be helpful.
It’s possible that something is helpful but science still needs to catch up with scientific measurements.

BUT… At least we need proof.
This leads me to the second issue with this book.

No Proof for Biggest Statements

The author tells the story of a woman who could see with her eyes closed.

She would wave back at the author with her eyes closed and eventually also be able to see behind her, at 360 degrees, with her eyes closed.
It actually made me angry that the author didn’t record it and/or offer any proof for it: if he is onto something so life-changing it’s his duty to show proof of it so that more people can get that kind of help.

The fact that there was no proof either for that story and for many other stories in the book is bound to arouse suspicion.

And it’s not about being suspicious, it’s about a critical approach that it’s our duty to keep as readers.

Good Stories But Less Statistics

The stories are great and very telling.
Yet, stories can be misleading. I would have preferred some statistics on the effects of placebo on top of the stories.

Please note, this criticism is not to say that Dispenza or “You Are The Placebo” do not contain positive information.
They do.
But it’s just no more, and no more scientific, than all the rest of the “positive thinking crowd” has been saying for a long time now.

The Positive of You Are The Placebo In One Video

Look at this video and you will realize why I am ambivalent about this book.

Some pompous sounding reference, a great gift of gab but… Little science behind it.

Yet, what he says can be very helpful.

Yet, what he says about obsessing over the negatives and the past issues is true. The habits of our mind do make who we are. And we should all take care of seeding and harvesting positive thoughts.
As usual, take the good out of it, and drop the bad… And possibly don’t throw too much money into it :).

Real-Life Applications

Be An Optimist: You’ll Live Longer
Optimists live longer. Try to be a bit more optimistic then.
Also, read:


Sometimes Feels Like an Ad
At times You Are The Placebo feels like an ad for the author’s seminars. And a bit of an upsell. In the end, the author says that you can either do your own tape for meditations or… You can buy his recordings.
To be fair the author also explains how to do your own tape. But since few are going to record their own instructions, it also works as a neat sales technique.

No Science
The “science” behind this book feels very “woo-woo” and there is a glaring lack of proof.


Positive Advice on Working on Our Thoughts
The information on meditation and working on our thoughts can be very empowering. Positive Psychology, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy, has proven that changing the way we think does change how we feel.


You Are The Place is based on positive thinking and the law of attraction.

Albeit all those books claims some sort of (woo-woo sounding) science behind them, You Are The Placebo aspires to more science since Dispenza prefaces his name with a “Dr.”, and it indeed offers some more real-life examples, some experiments, and factual stories.

However, more science and stories did not equate to more proof, and You Are The Placebo offered very little to quell the doubts of the most critical thinkers.

Placebo works, meditation, and self-healing are extremely interesting topics that I want to address deeper.
However, I didn’t find You Are The Placebo to be a good source for a good, dispassionate discussion on either topic.

I would give it 5 stars for the positive change it can make in people’s lives. But I can’t give it more than three because big claims require big proofs and I haven’t seen many of those.

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