PHANTOM ILLNESS: Shattering the Myth of Hypochondria by

PHANTOM ILLNESS: Shattering the Myth of Hypochondria

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Words of comfort from a recovered hypochondriac whose own fear-filled years of suffering, eventual mental breakdown, and successful therapy demonstrate that this much-maligned ailment can be treated. Not even recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association until 1980, hypochondria still goes largely undiagnosed and untreated. With the assistance of Fallon, a psychiatrist and researcher into hypochondria, journalist Cantor briefly traces its history, shows how it is viewed from the perspective of various psychological schools of thought, and presents vignettes of patients whose morbid fear of illness wreaked havoc with their lives. She tells, for instance, of Megan, whose ""body dismorphic disorder"" led to fears of going blind, deaf, and bald, among other obsessions; the anxiety led in turn to alcohol dependence and dropping out of school. Although Cantor's primary focus is on the person suffering from hypochondria, she explores the impact it can have on a marriage and how it can shape family dynamics. As elsewhere, her personal revelations lend force to the facts: Her own marriage was nearly ruined by her illness. She writes, ""My husband . . . was tired of being supportive. I was wracked by guilt, but so angst ridden that I couldn't focus on anything except my symptoms."" Relationships between the physician and the hypochondriacal patient are also examined from the perspective of each. Throughout, end-of-chapter boxed lists, such as ""Judging the Medical News"" and ""How Not to Encourage the Sick Role,"" provide quick-reference advice. Although Fallon's own approach is based on the theory that hypochondria is linked to obsessive-compulsive disorders and may be caused by biochemical imbalances in the brain, the final chapter describes not just the psychopharmacological approach but two other therapies that have proved effective: the psychodynamic and the cognitive-behavioral. Of special interest to sufferers, but also valuable to their families and to health professionals.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1996
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin