by: G. Katie Dashtban, Psy.D.
A small percentage of people experience an array of conditions and symptoms that cannot be grouped in one category to meet any known medical conditions. The illness of these people is often non-treatable with conventional or even un-conventional medicine. The following are often reported as symptoms that occur in conjunction, although not always in an organized manner.
Pain symptoms that persist such as joint pain, headaches, abdominal pain, rectum pain, pain during intercourse or urination or during menstruation. Gastrointestinal symptoms that show up unexpectedly and don’t respond to medicine or medical findings such as nausea, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, and intolerance of several foods. Sexual or reproductive symptoms that are non-responsive to medications such as sexual indifference, erectile or ejaculatory dysfunction, irregular menses, painful intercourse and difficulty achieving orgasm.
Exceptionally unusual neurological symptoms like paralysis or localized weakness, difficulty swallowing, urinary retention, double vision, dizziness and or impaired coordination, and general fatigue and sleep disturbances.
There used to be a name for the above cluster of symptoms in the diagnostic book of mental illnesses, (DSM-IV), it was called Somatization Disorder. Suffering from the above conditions can sometimes be due to psychic pain. Psychic pain is REAL; but its treatment is specific.
In modern psychology there is less mention of psychic pain primarily because such concepts cannot be easily verified by evidence-based research and methods. Most recently however, a different phrase, Hidden Emotions, which was first cited in the research of David Burns, M.D, unveils a lot. Hidden emotions are clearly “hidden” from the conscious awareness, and yet they are the driving force for many behavioral, cognitive and in this case medical symptoms. Patients with history of trauma or childhood adversarial conditions, those with history of sexual abuse and sexual trauma, and those with significant history of drug and alcohol abuse are more likely to fall victim.
In my clinical practice patients who are diagnosed with Somatization Disorder often do report a significant history of struggles with chronic traumatic events or self-destructive coping mechanisms. When left untreated and unaddressed, such struggles can morph into Somatization Disorder over the years. The hidden emotions are often in the form of some type of disappointment over the way things have turned out, or some type of severe grief that has not been healed, but has instead been forced upon the person. It is also a form of maintaining one’s opposition or anger toward someone, something, or some turn of events in the past.
One way to examine if your incurable medical symptoms are potentially due to unresolved hidden emotions is to use a Cost Benefit Analysis (David Burns, Feelinggood.com) where you would examine the advantages and disadvantages of changing your negative feelings such as anger or sadness against your medical symptoms. You might be surprised to notice the number of disadvantages in getting rid of your anger or sadness against your medical conditions. In other words, your somatization disorder is acting as a protective layer against facing those hidden emotions that are particularly painful. Careful psychotherapy can help address those unresolved hidden emotions such as grief, anger, disappointment, despair, fear and sadness. At that point, the psychic pain is no longer un-addressed, therefore it will no longer be poking itself out through un-organized and vague and incurable medical symptoms.
My name is Dr. Katie Dashtban, licensed clinical health psychologist. I have offices in Santa Cruz, Mt View and Fremont, CA, where I am the co-founder of Feeling Good Therapy & Training Center of Fremont. For more information visit: www.medicalpsychologyservice.com and www.feelinggoodtherapy.com or call: 510-400-6160