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Does Your Doctor Think You Are A Hypochondriac?

There certainly exists a disorder involving the belief that you are suffering from illnesses that you aren’t. It’s called hypochondriasis and there is also an associated illness called somatization disorder. Fortunately, both conditions are quite rare. Therefore most people who go to the doctor with a physical ailment that concerns them need either a positive diagnosis that they can work with or reassurance that there is nothing to be concerned about.

However, if your file should include a diagnosis of a mental illness, all that may change. Unless you have a reasonble doctor, many of the physical conditions you may approach your doctor about are not taken seriously and lumped into a basket labeled: “It’s just part of your depression/anxiety disorder/ schizophrenia/ mood disorder.”

Yet another of my clients has come away from her primary care physician with a feeling that she is a hypochondriac. This particular client has a history of chronic fatigue syndrome. At the time of going to the doctors, her glands were swollen, her head and joints ached and she was bone tired. Her CFS had returned in full swing.

Her own doctor was away, and his partner saw her. Not knowing her history of CFS, but observing in her file that she was seeing a counselor, he told her she didn’t have Epstein-Barr virus, the virus that had initiated her CFS, nor had she ever had it. When she protested that she had, he dismissed her claims. He told her she was quite well, even though she had both a fever and swollen glands, and refused a medical certificate.

Fortunately her family was able to come to her aid, as she was too sick to address the situation herself. They presented the doctor with conclusive pathology tests showing that the Epstein-Barr virus was indeed a part of this client’s life. They also demanded an apology.

Enraged, the doctor made four phone calls to this family, further exacerbating the illness of my client, in order to argue the point. Yet the point was: the lab tests showed he was wrong.

He then consulted two immunologists who told him he was mistaken in his diagnosis. The following day, he rang to apologize. This was all very stressful, not only to the client but to her family. Yet sometimes we have to make a stand against narrow-minded doctors who believe that everything is “in the mind” for someone who is undergoing counseling.

It seems with some doctors, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you don’t seek counseling when you need it, you are denying your problem. If you do seek counseling, every twinge is in your mind. Mind you, the very fact that this doctor reacted so violently and so obsessively to a piece of paper showing that he had made a mistake, shows that he could do with some counseling himself!

I think this doctor learned a valuable lesson and we should all stand up against the stigma of mental illness, especially when it involves people who should know better.

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