People with psychosomatic pain use to be told “you’re not really in pain, it’s just in your head, you are making this up”. Such a diagnosis holds a big stigma. Yet the pain is real, though not from a physical source but generated by our mind and initially can seem to be beyond our control. This is an emotional response often linked to stress, perception of health (fears or beliefs) or traumatic events in the past. A simple example of this is when we feel anxious we may sense our heart racing. There is nothing wrong with our heart, it is not diseased, but it is beating very fast and is a response to our emotions.
Sadly many Doctors and healthcare professionals are not sufficiently trained to pick up on psychogenic symptoms and even fewer know how to help, offering instead surgery and pills. As an acupuncturist we are more attuned to how emotions can lead to illness. Traditional Chinese Medicine explains these connections in detail, yet the patient may not want to hear such a diagnosis. Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan consultant in clinical neurophysiology and neurology explained on Radio 4’s Life Scientific (6/11/18),
“people are not aware of how powerful the mind is and how significant symptoms can be when we have an emotionally troubled mind”.
I was surprised to hear her go on to say:
“Every single specialty (neurology, rheumatology, dermatology etc) see 25-33% of people with psychosomatic disorders.”
This is huge. I wonder how many of these people are misdiagnosed and suffer years of inappropriate treatment.
A physiotherapist disappointed that she could only get people to ‘manage’ their chronic pain rather than resolve it, realised she needed to take a psychological approach to dealing with the pain of her clients. She got good results and then set up a new psychological only approach to help people with many types of chronic pain (called SIRPA). I recently received an infographic from her. I think it neatly explains how real psychologically generated chronic pain is. Essentially it explains how the unconscious nervous system can trigger and sustain pain in the body. Our body is responding to emotional triggers:
If you think your illness might be triggered by your emotions, SIRPA offers a questionnaire which can tell you whether this might be the case. See their website.