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Is It All in Your Head?: True Stories of Imaginary Illness
     

Is It All in Your Head?: True Stories of Imaginary Illness

5.0 1
by Suzanne O'Sullivan
 

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A neurologist's insightful and compassionate look into the misunderstood world of psychosomatic disorders, told through individual case histories
 
It's happened to all of us: our cheeks flush red when we say the wrong thing, or our hearts skip a beat when a certain someone walks by. But few of us realize how much more dramatic and

Overview

A neurologist's insightful and compassionate look into the misunderstood world of psychosomatic disorders, told through individual case histories
 
It's happened to all of us: our cheeks flush red when we say the wrong thing, or our hearts skip a beat when a certain someone walks by. But few of us realize how much more dramatic and extreme our bodies' reactions to emotions can be. Many people who see their doctor have medically unexplained symptoms, and in the vast majority of these cases, a psychosomatic cause is suspected. And yet, the diagnosis of a psychosomatic disorder can make a patient feel dismissed as a hypochondriac, a faker, or just plain crazy.
 
In IS IT ALL IN YOUR HEAD? neurologist Suzanne O'Sullivan, MD, takes us on a journey through the world of psychosomatic illness, where we meet patients such as Rachel, a promising young dancer now housebound by chronic fatigue syndrome, and Mary, whose memory loss may be her mind's way of protecting her from remembering her husband's abuse. O'Sullivan reveals the hidden stresses behind their mysterious symptoms, approaching a sensitive topic with patience and understanding. She addresses the taboos surrounding psychosomatic disorders, teaching us that "it's all in your head" doesn't mean that something isn't real, as the body is often the stand-in for the mind when the latter doesn't possess the tools to put words to its sorrow.

The perfect book for fans of Oliver Sacks, Is It All in Your Head? encourages us to look with compassion at the ways in which our brains act out, and to acknowledge the intimate connection between mind and body.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
08/08/2016
By altering the conventional discussion surrounding psychosomatic illnesses, O’Sullivan helps laypeople recognize the reality of a problem that is often treated dismissively, in and outside of the medical field. A consultant in neurology, she is most interested in diseases that occupy the unconscious, their symptoms unmeasurable and their causes unknown—conditions that might be revealed by technologies like MRI but remain essentially mysterious. Each chapter of this book presents a case study, lending vivid life to patients with psychosomatic disorders, along with extensive context for everything including the bygone diagnosis of “hysteria” and the dawn of neurology as a medical profession. Seizures, still difficult to account for and treat, receive extensive attention. And this study is not just about the patients, but the intricacies, the inevitable challenges, of the doctor-patient encounter. Given repeated emphasis is the stigma of diagnosis—a stigma that O’Sullivan combats through her dedication to the individual stories she tells. If empathy is bolstered by understanding, then this book will bring such sentiments to a rarely understood condition. It will engage readers’ heads, but also quite possibly enter their hearts. Agent: Kirsty McLachlan, David Godwin Associates. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2016 Wellcome Book Prize

“…thoughtful and stimulating … The whole-life stories that Dr. O’Sullivan tells are compelling, but they are also carefully chosen. The range of diagnoses allows her to explicate much of the history and contemporary understanding of psychosomatic disorders and symptoms…a wise book.” –WALL STREET JOURNAL
 
“Each chapter of this book presents a case study, lending vivid life to patients with psychosomatic disorders, along with extensive context for everything including the bygone diagnosis of 'hysteria' and the dawn of neurology as a medical profession....If empathy is bolstered by understanding, then this book will bring such sentiments to a rarely understood condition. It will engage readers' heads, but also quite possibly enter their hearts.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
 
“An intriguing look at how mental processes affect and alter our views—and feelings—of health and illness.” –KIRKUS
 
“…an illuminating account of psychosomatic disease by Suzanne O’Sullivan, a neurologist. Psychosomatic illness is not fully understood, but stress and traumatic events, such as rape and domestic violence, are suspected to be a cause. That may be why it is more common in women than men. Ms. O’Sullivan unravels her patients’ past to explain how memories lodged in the subconscious—from a child’s death to a broken bone—can command debilitating physical illness, in some cases many years later. Psychosomatic diseases are ubiquitous and cost health systems a fortune (twice the cost of treating diabetes in America in 2002, for example), yet medical textbooks relegate them to footnotes. Patients reject the diagnosis as laden with stigma. Ms. O’Sullivan’s book is a plea for change. Huge suffering could be averted if patients, doctors and everyone else stopped viewing them as diseases that are not ‘real’.” –THE ECONOMIST
 
O’Sullivan illuminates one of medi­cine’s most fraught moments, when a physician reaches the conclusion that there is no physical (or “organic”) disease…[She] cleverly invokes a uni­versal experience…Our mind can forcefully speak through our body not only in distress, but in joy.” NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS
 
“This fascinating casebook with historical insights—compiled by a seasoned neurologist who is now a consultant at the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery in London—offers a thorough examination of the significant yet complicated role emotions play in physical illness and the stigmas attached to psychosomatic disorders…the stories in Is It All in Your Head? are intellectually and factually diverse…the delivery and impact of a psychosomatic diagnosis and subsequent patient response further tug emotionally at readers. O'Sullivan never trivializes the patient or what he or she is experiencing. Rather, she respects the strength of her patients and encourages them to find ways to address underlying psychological problems in order to overcome some incredible—some might even call them mind boggling—challenges in life.” – SHELF AWARENESS

“O’Sullivan earns the trust of the reader, and her storytelling is captivating…this book is highly readable, and demystifies the ways in which the body is tied inextricably to the mind.” –BUST MAGAZINE

Is It All in Your Head? consists of a series of stories...all very finely crafted, and all following the same essential pattern…This is an important book. O’Sullivan makes the powerful argument for taking psychosomatic illnesses seriously and treating the people who suffer from them with respect. This last point is especially critical: Psychosomatic diagnosis carry with them a stigma that can make treatment much harder for patient and physician alike. O’Sullivan wants us to understand that these conditions are real—just as real as laughing or crying or any other ways our bodies ‘somatize’ emotions.” BOOKFORUM

“In this important book, O’Sullivan lays out her case for a new approach and treatment methods for psychosomatic illness. Her argument is convincing. Taken from real life experiences, through her work as a neurologist and neurophysiologist, she shares the cases of some of her patients and ponders how come so many of them complain about symptoms without any physical manifestation… O’Sullivan seeks to establish a connection between mind and body that goes beyond simple mood disorder treatment. She advocates for new ways to look, understand and treat unexplainable symptoms, paving the way for bringing relief to her patients. Some of the cases will break your heart.” HUFFINGTON POST

“Doctors’ tales of their patients’ weirder afflictions have been popular since Oliver Sacks . . . Few of them, however, are as bizarre or unsettling as those described in this extraordinary and extraordinarily compassionate book.” —James McConnachie, Sunday Times

“An important study of psychosomatic illness, which shows it to be a serious disease of modern society: misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and surrounded by fear.” —Louise Carpenter, The Telegraph

“Honest, fascinating, and necessary.” —David Aaronovitch, The Times (UK)

“A fascinating glimpse into the human condition . . . a forceful call for society to be more open about such suffering.” —Ian Birrell, Daily Mail

Is It All In Your Head? may challenge some of your most deeply-held beliefs about illness and behavior.” – POPMATTERS

“English neurologist and epilepsy specialist Suzanne O’Sullivan chronicles encounters with her many patients who display severe physical impairments for which there appears to be no organic foundation. Epileptic seizures, convulsions, blindness, paralysis, panic attacks, cancer, hypochondriacal anxiety, and other apparently psychosomatic complaints that severely compromise existence are medically shown to be manifestations of the mind’s influence over physical function. Frequently, the recourse prescribed is psychiatric intervention in an attempt to expose underlying mental conflicts that may have triggered the disability. Earlier psychologists such as Charcot, Janet, Breuer, Munchhausen, and of course Freud are threaded into the story along with discussions of hysteria, conversion disorder, dissociation, and more timely terms. . . The book reinforces the view that the mind powerfully controls the body.” – SEATTLE BOOK REVIEW

Library Journal
08/01/2016
Following her 2016 Wellcome Book Prize winner, It's All in Your Head, Epilepsy Society neurophysiology consultant O'Sullivan's latest encourages rethinking the ways in which the subconscious influences physical health, providing a catalyst for discussion about the intricacies of cognitive processes and the organic expressions of maladies. Unlike Jo Marchant's Cure, which concentrates on the mind's ability to alleviate illnesses, this title focuses more on cause rather than remedy. A major weakness is this work's lack of scientific research and data to support its conclusions. However, the anecdotal evidence of the case studies does invite a closer analysis of the origins of the patients' disorders, and the sympathetic tone of the author differs from the typical clinical attitudes toward the mind-body connection. VERDICT With heavy emphasis on the medical theories of Jean-Martin Charcot, Pierre Janet, and Sigmund Freud, this book provides an appealing viewpoint for readers with a strong interest in psychology. It also allows those with medical conditions to explore any overlooked nonphysical causes of their ailments.—Bonnie Parker, Southern Crescent Technical Coll., Thomaston, GA
Kirkus Reviews
2016-11-01
Feeling out of sorts? Take two imaginary aspirin and call us in the morning.Trained in both neurology and clinical neurophysiology, British doctor O'Sullivan sometimes strays from both fields to enter the realm of psychology and the within-mind processes that can make an otherwise healthy person feel very sick indeed. As she writes, her early experiences came in a study of people with epilepsy who were not responding to standard treatments—not responding, it turns out, because 70 percent of them were not really suffering from epilepsy but instead from psychological troubles. "And each person I encountered had a story to tell," she writes, "and too often that story was one of a journey through the hospital system that led them to no satisfactory understanding of what was wrong." In all this, long-ignored standards become relevant anew, and diagnosis by way of analysis becomes ever more critical, since, as the author notes, people themselves are rather untrustworthy witnesses to and interpreters of their own experience—and "distressed, frightened people are more unreliable still." Blending well-spun anecdote with a gently worn survey of the current medical art, O'Sullivan examines the strengths and weaknesses of approaches to psychosomatic disorders (which "are noteworthy for how little respect they have for any single part of the body") and stress-related neuroses and illnesses, some of them rare, some of them so commonplace that we scarcely notice whether someone has them or not; some "somatic symptom disorders" happen as a result of readily identifiable trauma, but some are not obvious and even secretive. As a result, the author concludes, just as there is no single cause of psychosomatic illness, neither is there a single cure. "To look for one," she notes, "is akin to looking for the cure for unhappiness." An intriguing look at how mental processes affect and alter our views—and feelings—of health and illness.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590517956
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
01/17/2017
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
66,872
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Suzanne O'Sullivan has been a consultant in neurology since 2004, working first at The Royal London Hospital and currently as a consultant in clinical neurophysiology and neurology at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, as well as for a specialist unit based at the Epilepsy Society. She has developed an expertise in working with patients with psychogenic disorders, alongside her work with those suffering with physical diseases, such as epilepsy. This is her first book.

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Is It All in Your Head?: True Stories of Imaginary Illness 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Darcy714 11 months ago
Neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan began her career treating general neurology cases, but over time, noting the number of psychosomatic related neurological disorders she was seeing, began to specialize in such treatments. In Is It All in Your Head, she charts her own progress and experiences in the field, each chapter centering on a specific patient case file or files and the issues present in them. Though O’Sullivan admits there is a tendency in her field towards dismissing those neurological cases with a psychological basis, she argues strongly against it. She charts her own slow realizations as to the fact that a psychological cause does not make these conditions any less impairing, however it markedly influences the way the patients are treated by society, their employers and even doctors. Providing examples of diagnoses and case files throughout history from highly influential neurologists like Jean-Martin Charcot, who has thus far defined more neurological diseases than any other doctor. Sullivan charts the history and name changes of such psychogenic diseases from hysteria to neurasthenia to the multiple prevailing terms today including: psychogenic and psychosomatic disorders. Throughout, she provides a fascinating and highly readable collection of cases and medical history of such conditions. A highly readable and informative book that will appeal to lovers of psychology, medical literature, or those who just love to learn something new. Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.