Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Psychosomatic? Or just somatic?

psy·cho·so·mat·ic [sahy-koh-suh-mat-ik, -soh-]
  1. of or pertaining to a physical disorder that is caused by or notably influenced by emotional factors.
  2. pertaining to or involving both the mind and the body.

Over the years, I've come to doubt the existence of psychosomatic illnesses. People like to believe in them. The idea that our mind can make our body sick is intriguing, and besides, it provides an easy explanation for all those inconvenient ailments that haven't yet been diagnosed, or even discovered. Problem is, nobody seems to have taken the trouble to prove that emotional stress can manifest as physical symptoms.

Every once in a while I get into a debate with somebody about this. While they allow for the possibility that "psychosomatic" is at times shorthand for "I don't know what's wrong with you and don't want to tell you that," they believe that psychologically induced illnesses can happen. They aren't experts in the field or anything; they just think it's intuitively obvious.

For those people, here's a quote on the subject from a licensed clinical psychologist who's been practicing for over 25 years:
Physicians have referred many people to me before they had a diagnosis, even doctors who don’t know what else to do for their patients. ALL of them eventually received a medical diagnosis. That’s right. ALL OF THEM.

(Full post here.)
My opinion on psychosomatic illness can be swayed by real evidence—evidence that amounts to more than "We've ruled out everything else we happen to know about." 'til then, true believers, the burden of proof is on you.


Anonymous said...

Beware the term "mind-body" as it's often now used in the place of "psychosomatic."

I've read two books by a neurologist who believes that early life trauma and stress as causative factors in developing fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (among other disease states). Hidden within the pages of one of his books are these statements: "Although there is no solid scientific literature that addresses these issues . . ." and "because many of the scientific rationales for these conclusions are speculative and theoretical, their validity may or may not stand the test of time, and many may never be tested."


In all my research through the medical and psychological literature, I have yet to find the conclusive evidence that a physical disorder is "caused by" emotional factors: it all falls apart upon closer examination. Of course "influenced by" leaves a lot of wiggle room and needs to be accurately described.

DeppityBob said...

I know exactly what you're saying. Just thinking about it makes me sick.

cinderkeys said...

Anon: Yes, I've noticed the trendiness of "mind-body." That one is more subtle and complex -- harder to disagree with because it's milder, but therefore even easier to insert where it's inappropriate.

Dep: *THWAP* :P

(Er, I assume that bit of wordplay was on purpose.)