By Julie Le Franc, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist and Psychologist
Psychosomatic may be defined as ‘psyche’ – the conscious and unconscious process of sensory input and memories from past and present thoughts and attitudes; and ‘soma’ – incorporating the anatomical body and its physiological functions. Psychosomatic factors are always important in disease emanating from psychological and emotional disturbance.
It is hardly possible to study psychosomatic problems without considering the notions of stress and its effects on the individual; of the so-called Unconscious, or that part of the mind that harbours active emotional states albeit out of the range of awareness; of conflict in the mind; of the notion of repression, the mental mechanism by which something unpleasant, distasteful, or unbearable is rendered unconscious in order to avoid mental pain.
Defence mechanisms that are deployed at an unconscious level transform the emotional state into a bodily dysfunction, and this shows itself as physical symptoms. For example, hysteria is a psychological disorder where there are physical symptoms but no physical disease and hypochondria where people are preoccupied with a fear of having, or conviction that they have a serious illness.
Bodily symptoms with an emotional basis may be part of the so-called psychosomatic illnesses, where medical conditions are certainly present but are heavily influenced by psychological factors.
As I see it, an individual’s state of health is a manifestation of their total functioning as a human being that embraces the body, the mind and spirit and these three elements being inextricably interwoven and interlinked.
Even symptoms like a headache, sore throat, tension, back pain and indigestion I see as symbolic physical expressions of a lack of contentment, fulfilment and peace of mind. We can never underestimate the potency of deeply entrenched emotional reactions. Some simple values and guidelines can assist patients in dealing with and overcoming emotional reactions.
They may include:
· Self-acceptance or Self-love
· Developing patience with ourselves and others
· Practising contentment
· Showing perseverance
· Learning to manage and develop our emotions and our mind
· Understanding the values of life
· Learning about our self
Psychotherapy can be most important to the treatment of psychosomatic ailments.
The Medical Link August/September 2006 – issue number 048