Saturday, October 07, 2006

My Unprofessional Professional Opinion

It is not disputed that hypochondria can be successfully treated. Behavioral and drug therapies have both proven promising, and ultimately produce the same result: a reduction in the strength of dysfunctional beliefs.

While many define hypochondria as the preoccupation or obsession with health and imaginary disease, it is more accurately defined as the surrender to irrational beliefs. The hypochondriac embraces an idea as truth, without evidence or consideration for past experience.

Professionals are now proclaiming this way of thinking to be the hypochondriac’s physical illness, a “neuro-chemical imbalance in the brain,” which causes the person to succumb to illogical viewpoints. They’ve proved that this flawed judgment can be corrected by altering the mind’s thinking process through drug therapy. But, are we “illogical people” capable of correcting our way of thinking without the enablement of prescription drugs? Cognitive and behavioral therapists have proven that belief systems can also be altered through alternative means, such as psycho education and the monitoring, identifying and challenging of our unreasonable thoughts.

If both treatment methods are ultimately successful, is one superior to the other? Does the end justify the means?

While drug therapy is regarded as a successful treatment for hypochondria, its effects are temporary and only last while the patient is medicated. The thinking process is artificially altered, instead of consciously changed by the patient. This means it is more of a temporary fix or “Band-Aid,” not the solution. This approach is fitting for today’s American society, which is addicted to instant gratification. Medication is to the hypochondriac, what the diet pill is to the obese; while it initially sheds the pounds or irrational thoughts, it is addicting and temporary.

It’s my personal belief that the cure must come from within, not from a bottle. In my experience, the irrational thoughts that fuel the hypochondria don’t stop at health-related concerns, it seeps into other aspects of life and causes clouded thinking in general. In order for the hypochondriac to experience a higher quality of life, free of irrational thinking, we must address the problem, not mask it. But, if we truly do suffer from a tangible neuro-chemical imbalance, how can therapy alone address this? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that the mind is a powerful thing. If we can harness our imaginations and focus our energy in positive ways, life would be a much more enjoyable experience. Studies do show that a group receiving placebo will experience the same result as a group taking Prozac if they truly believe in the cure.

Therapy or drugs, to each his own, but I’d definitely advise against the lobotomy of the 1960’s.

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Reading too many scholarly journals has kicked my brain tumor into high gear…must go medicate with some beer.


edward said...

Wow. Really relatable. As a fellow early twenty-something hypochondriac, with too many months of therapy under his belt, I can really see a lot of myself in your articles.

Leila V. said...

It seems as though there are alot of us twenty-something year-old hypochondriacs popping up these days. I wonder if it's something in the water ;)

Kristen said...

I really related to this post, Leila. I'm a fourth-year graduate student in psychology working on my Ph.D. and have hypochondriasis, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. I feel like I should know better, as I treat people with these disorders, but I can't help shake my own worries. Anyway, the part in your post about the chemical imbalance is actually an outdated version of what scientists think about these disorders. There is simply no scientific proof for an imbalance. What my psychiatrist recently told me as I was arguing with him why I should not be put back on medication was that currently they believe that the neurons in the brain are reuptaking too much serotonin after it has been released into the synapse, therefore preventing a signal from reaching the next neuron. This is why SSRI medications are preferred. However, I am not totally convinced this is the case either because in Dr. Burns' book WHEN PANIC ATTACKS he talks about a lot of studies that show that placebos actually perform better than SSRIs. I do, for sure know that many studies have shown that drugs work quicker than therapy but that therapy works better in the long run (especially cognitive-behavioral therapy).

I am currently in therapy but finding that my psychologist is not helping much. I have decided to switch to another therapist and I will keep switching until I find someone I feel like is helping. If you do decide to go the therapy route, keep in mind that YOU get to choose who you work with and if you don't connect with someone it is not unheard of to seek help elsewhere. Most patients don't realize that.

I feel like this comment may be too preachy - sorry. It is definitely not intended to be so. I just wanted to share with you some of the things I know and have learned and also to let you know that even people who have training in psychology do suffer from the same thing.

Peace -


Sens said...

I started taking Prozac for hypochondria at the start of the year... it did work...really quickly too and I also lost weight... I stopped taking it thinking I would be ok... now this past two weeks the hypochondria is back... this week I think I have cancer. I'm back on Prozac.