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It's All in Your Head: True Stories of…

It's All in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness

by Suzanne O'Sullivan

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Suzanne O'Sullivan is a neurologist consultant based in the UK. In It's All in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness she details the case histories of various patients who present with neurological symptoms. However, these patients have normal neurological test results, no organic cause can be found for their illness, but they still suffer from e.g. dissociative seizures or have lost the ability to move a limb. They suffer from a psychosomatic disorder. The cause of this is attributed to the patients' subconscious, their emotional well-being relating to present or past emotional stress and/or trauma. As psychosomatic illness is still "a socially unacceptable disorder", many of O'Sullivan's patients react in a defensive, sceptical, or even furious manner when faced with the suggestion to consult a psychiatrist, "so I'm crazy (mad)/a psycho now?"
I was really interested in reading this book because the best and most useful internship I spent during my training were four months in a psychosomatic clinic. In the end, it took me forever to finish this book. That's not to say that it wasn't good, but Ms O'Sullivan isn't a natural storyteller. In addition, the structure of the book made it really difficult to stay with it. The case studies, which I was most interested in, are interrupted by long passages providing historical background covering Charcot, Freud etc.
By the time the author returned to talking about a particular patient again, I often had trouble remembering who that patient was. Ok, maybe my problem as well for having a rubbish memory, but I wish the book had been structured differently.
In general, this is an informative introduction to psychosomatic disorders, especially if you are also interested in gaining some insight into the history of medicine/psychology, but I was keen to find out more about how these patients fared once they were transferred to a psychiatrist and how they dealt with their diagnosis. But I guess that doesn't fall within Dr O'Sullivan's remit, so I appreciate that some information was missing.
Some chapters, as shown by some reviews of this book, are controversial depending on your opinion regarding psychosomatic illness. Overall, I found O'Sullivan's stance respectful and empathetic. She comes across as a compassionate and honest medical professional. The title of the book isn't particularly helpful because the point is that these are not "imaginary" illnesses, as O'Sullivan points out herself, but very real for the tormented patients.
Recommended if you're interested in finding out about the power of the mind over the body and you like a solid introduction to psychosomatic disorders.
I received an ARC via NetGalley. ( )
  Pet12 | Feb 8, 2017 |
I think everyone should read this book, not just health professionals. As someone whose body ALWAYS reacts to stress, I have learnt over the past 30 years that what is going on in our heads rules our bodies. The unconscious is a strange thing and our epidemic of chronic mystery illnesses has much to do with it.
But as the writer says, the stigma associated with psychological issues means that most people aren't willing to accept the idea. It's much easier to tell family and colleagues that you have a physical disease than that you have psychological issues to deal with - although we ALL have them. If you enjoy this book, try something by Dr John Sarno about chronic pain - he is saying the same thing in a different way. ( )
  infjsarah | Nov 5, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0701189266, Hardcover)

A neurologist explores the very real world of psychosomatic illness.
     Most of us accept the way our heart flutters when we set eyes on the one we secretly admire, or the sweat on our brow as we start the presentation we do not want to give. But few of us are fully aware of how much more dramatic and extreme our body's reactions to emotions can sometimes be. Up to a third of people who go to see their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained; in the vast majority of these cases an emotional cause is suspected. And yet, when it comes to a diagnosis, 'it's all in your head' is the very last thing we want to hear, and the last thing doctors want to say. 
     In It's All in Your Head consultant neurologist Dr. Suzanne O'Sullivan takes us on a journey through the world of psychosomatic illness, to meet patients like Pauline, who has been ill all her adult life; like Camilla, the lawyer with the perfect life -- except for her unexplained seizures; Yvonne, who was blinded at work by cleaning spray; Rachel who was a promising dancer but now is stuck in the purgatory of ME. Suzanne O'Sullivan encourages us to look deep inside the human condition, at the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves, and to question our age-old failure to credit the intimate and extraordinary connection between mind and body.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 09 Jul 2015 19:42:45 -0400)

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