HYPOCHONDRIA: Towards a Better Understanding by Robert Meister

HYPOCHONDRIA: Towards a Better Understanding

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The message, by a former editor of the Journal of Existential Psychiatry, is that hypochondriacs have gotten short shrift in contemporary society. Doctors call them ""crocks"" and treat them with contempt. Therapists are equally repelled and often don't accept them as patients. But the message also is that hypochondriacs are sick--that their lives are limited, if not shortened, by their compelling interest in symptoms, their overuse of medications, their susceptibility to more drastic interventions. Meister's limning of the personality type suggests a wary dependency (a tinge of paranoia is frequent) combined with a need for a loving/authoritative relationship. Or, as English psychiatrist Michael Balint elegantly sums it up: ""Some people fall ill to secure the attention and concern they need, and the illness is a claim to, a justification of, and simultaneously the expiation for, the extra amount of affection demanded."" But Meister's compassionate handling of the subject seems overextended in chapters dealing with classic or Renaissance concepts, and a separate one on hypochondriacs in literature. Are ""ennui,"" ""spleen,"" ""vapors,"" or the medieval concept of ""acedia"" (signifying a torporous indifference of the soul), really applicable to the garden-variety of hypochondria? Meister's appeal for the use of hypnosis and placebos to treat hypochondriacs also seems questionable, given the strong resistance of these patients to therapy in any form. Still the author's intentions are admirable; it's high time someone put in a good word for a familiar, near-universal syndrome.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1980
Publisher: Taplinger