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Psychosomatic Illness (Somatoform Disorders): Real Life Stories

Real Life Stories

Ania, a 17-year-old girl, born in the U.S. to eastern Arabic parents, wanted to attend an out-of-town college. This plan evoked the sharp disapproval of her parents, who, in accordance with the custom of their culture, wanted her to remain at home while attending college. The disagreement was not discussed openly; it was assumed that Ania would attend a local college. She developed seizures and was admitted to a hospital for observation. Neurological tests were negative and an organically-based seizure disorder was ruled out. After psychiatric consultation and a number of sessions with both Ania and her parents, they came to view the seizures as related to a long-established pattern in which Ania did not deal directly with her anxiety. Unable to express negative and angry feelings, Ania reacted with her body. Her conflict in assertively expressing her feelings to her parents about leaving home resulted in the pseudo-seizures. When the family was helped to consider the symptoms as a manifestation of cultural style they learned new ways to communicate their feelings, and the symptoms remitted.

Scott, 10, complained over a period of more than a year of severe stomachaches, which often resulted in vomiting. His pediatrician conducted a series of diagnostic tests and found no physical basis for his complaints. A school avoidance pattern was ruled out, since Scott willingly attended school; he was a good student, well-liked by his classmates and an outstanding soccer player. However, he spent many after-school hours at soccer practice, practiced compulsively at home, travelled with his team, took trombone lessons, and often stayed up until midnight completing his homework. Scott's parents began to think his complaints were imagined. In consultation with a mental health professional they were helped to understand that when stress builds up without relief the body may react. They were advised to make life-style changes such as limiting his soccer practice and trombone lessons to reduce the pressure that Scott was experiencing. The stomachaches and vomiting subsided within a few months.

Ania and Scott were diagnosed as having Somatoform Disorder.