Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can physical symptoms be explained psychologically?

I seem to always be complaining about one physical symptom or another.  Even during the same day it can shift between various ones, but there is always something.  Fatigue, anxiety, pressure in my chest, shoulder pain, stomach pain, headache, etc.  I'm beginning to feel that these can be explained more psychologically than any actual physical cause.

Dr. John Sarno has written several books about this, and has treated many patients experiencing pain and other symptoms that other doctors were unable to get rid of.  He believes there is an epidemic of psychosomatic illness that is currently being treated with medications but which really needs to be treated on a psychological level.  He has a Freudian perspective, and feels that our unconscious emotions can express themselves as physical symptoms, sort of as a way of distracting ourselves from having to experiencing the actual emotions.  So it's a defense mechanism, our body is trying to "protect us" from the intensity of whatever emotions we have hidden in our unconscious.

To treat people, he makes sure that they understand how the process works.  He believes the pain and other symptoms is caused by mild oxygen deprivation, which can manifest itself in just about any area of the body.  His books outline the mechanism in greater detail but I cannot remember them off the top of my head.  Anyways, the symptoms are actually harmless no matter how intense they may seem.  He has cured many people of severe back pain that nobody else has been able to treat, as well as other physical and psychological conditions.

In addition to understanding the mechanism, his patients are asked to begin journaling in order to get out the resentments and repressed emotions that are causing the physical symptoms.  Some also require psychotherapy, and it can take a while for the symptoms to subside.  Often, however, there is a quick improvement.

I'm fascinated by this approach because it offers a completely different perspective on the cause of our physical ailments.  I also am skeptical as to whether or not there is truly such an epidemic of mind-body disorders, or whether this is actually a rare explanation that he is making out to be a common cause of physical ailments.

I would like to believe that this could be a possible explanation for some of my symptoms.  It also makes me feel like I may be a bit crazy.   But psychosomatic does not mean that the symptoms are not real, they are very real.  The difference is that they have a psychological cause rather than a physical one.  The symptom does not feel any different than if it had an actual physical cause.

I intend to give more attention to this and see if there are any improvements in my physical symptoms as a result.

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