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Psychosomatic is a term that combines the words mind (psycho) and body (soma). It is often combined with the term illness, which refers to the mind having influence or possibly creating bodily illness. The word is slippery to define, at best, given the different perceptions on origins of disease. To some, any mind-influenced illness is indication of neurosis. Others believe all illness is psychosomatic to a degree and doctors should be especially aware of mind/body connection when they practice medicine.
One thing that should be made abundantly clear is that psychosomatic illness is very real. Dismissing a person as crazy for having an illness that can’t be diagnosed through traditional medical methods is extremely unhelpful. Whether a person experiences hysterical pregnancy, blindness, extreme pain or a number of other conditions, simply discounting these symptoms as caused by the mind does nothing to get to the root of the problem. Moreover, with new medical discoveries occurring regularly, some conditions that were always considered as mind driven alone have now been found to have a true medical cause. Many patients strongly advocate for physicians to retain an open mind before determining that an illness is an indication of an unhealthy mind.
On the flipside, it’s becoming very clear in medical literature that there are plenty of instances of psychosomatic blend in illness. Chronic stress, for example, may result in things like high blood pressure, high risk for heart disease, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal reflux, spastic colon, and many other conditions. The mind can strongly affect the health and well being of the body, resulting in much greater risk for many different forms of disease. A disarrayed mind can also make poorer choices about diet, exercise, smoking or drinking that increase risk for a number of lifestyle diseases.
It’s still hard to understand why certain individuals suddenly develop dramatic diseases that seem to have no medical cause. Psychosomatic illness that creates extremely pronounced sudden symptoms like blindness or severe pain is very difficult to treat. Just as the doctor may want to dismiss this as mental illness, the patient might be clinging to the hope that such a diagnosis doesn’t occur. This can lead to failures by both parties, with patient not treatment compliant and doctor failing to recognize the emotional angst of the patient’s situation.
There are doctors specializing in psychosomatic conditions, and this field is also the province of specialists like psychiatrists and mental health experts like psychotherapists. In order to successfully treat a psychosomatic condition, strong partnerships between doctor/psychotherapist and patient must be formed. With an unclear sense of how the mind/body connection works, treatment is best when all involved try to keep an open mind.