What is your body telling you? How psychotherapy can unravel the cause of persistent physical symptoms

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Distressed by headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness and pain for a long time? You’re not alone. Some persistent physical symptoms do not match recognised medical conditions. But that doesn’t mean these symptoms are ‘all in your head’. What you’re experiencing is real. Your body is telling you that something is wrong. That something needs to change for you to live, feel and be well.

Your condition can be treated. When usual diagnostic procedures are inconclusive and the pain you are experiencing continues, it could mean that a psychological problem may be causing your physical discomfort. Here, we look at two types of Somatic Symptom and Related Disorder.

Somatic Symptom Disorder

Take Grace as an example. For over a year, she struggled with chronic headaches. She saw five different doctors and had a brain scan and everything came back clear. Why was she in so much pain? Pain so debilitating it impacted her ability to work and forced her to rest. The stress of her headaches led her to IMI’s Counselling Psychologist Jessica Lau.

Working with Grace, Jessica recognised the tell-tale signs of Somatic Symptom Disorder. Individuals feel extreme anxious over a physical symptom that may have no clear medical explanation and have excessive thoughts and behaviours in response to the symptom, which can worsen it. This disorder can be related to childhood challenges and trauma.

It turned out that rest was not the norm for Grace. As a young child, she saw her mother suffered from long-term illness and was always vulnerable. The weight of her responsibilities toward family and particularly her younger siblings lay heavily on her young shoulders. Growing up, she felt an obligation to always be and do well. Her family needed her and their needs made her forget and forego her own needs.

Grace’s headaches were sending her a message to meet her own emotional and physical needs – that it was ok to rest. That it was necessary to reconnect with herself and see how sacrificing her own needs had become her way of life and more importantly that she could consciously choose how to continue living her life.

Her headaches eventually went away as Grace began to work toward a healthier, balanced way of being.

Illness Anxiety Disorder

If you always feel that you have an illness or you have been called a hypochondriac, you may be able to relate to Mark. Mark could hear himself breathe. He told his wife and friends and they shared that they too could hear their breathing sometimes and it was nothing to worry about. But, he was worried. So worried in fact that he thought he might have lung cancer. He fluctuated between seeing different doctors multiple times to avoiding doctors altogether for fear of the worst possible outcome. After two years of observing her husband’s distress, Mark’s wife encouraged him to seek therapy.

Through therapy, the link between the sound of breath, serious illness and death came to the surface. Mark had witnessed the death of his grandmother who had taken care of him when he was younger. He heard her take her final breaths and regretted not being able to say more to her before she died. His family did not speak of her death and he mourned alone.

During his sessions with Jessica, Mark had a safe space to speak openly of his loss and say all that he had wanted to say to his grandmother. The fear of illness and death channelled into energy propelling him to live a life as full as she did and he began to remember her as the strong and loving woman she was. And so, his breathing became a reminder to him to live well.

Our bodies know before we know. Sometimes, they serve us with tough love to remind us that there are things worth untangling for us to live the life we deserve.

If you have been experiencing chronic physical symptoms, psychotherapy can help to determine the underlying challenges impacting your health and wellbeing. Equipping yourself with the answers is the first step to living a better life.

To schedule a consultation with Jessica Lau, please call +852 2523 7121 or contact here.

*Names and specific circumstances have been changed to protect and respect client confidentiality.

身體有話兒
心理治療為持續性身體症狀找答案

你有常常頭痛、胃痛、心跳、頭暈嗎?皮膚問題和其他痛症等有困擾你嗎?你可能已經看了很多遍醫生,總是找不到原因或者沒法斷尾。

在心理治療中,或許你可以聽聽你的身體想告訴你什麼。

讓我們看看兩種類型的身心症及相關疾病。

體化症 Somatic symptoms disorder

「我頭痛已經持續半年有多。開頭吃止痛藥、然後看西醫還花了很多錢照腦。再看中醫針灸。我已經為了這個痛症非常努力。我很無助,好像什麼醫生也給不了我出口。我會常常想著身體問題。我總覺得我有暗病。有時候更會痛到沒法工作。」

林小姐患上體化症Somatic symptoms disorder。一年前在自己覺得自己沒有足夠預備的情況下被公司硬推升職。為了不讓別人失望,每日非常努力工作,好想證明自己。父母從小對她期望極高,家裏的人都很有成就。四十年來自己一直在追著趕著。

接受心理治療半年,她好好處理成長中的每一次強迫自己、以前不以為然的傷口。

頭痛讓她必須停下來休息。

不是頭痛,也不知道自己原來可以休息。

心理治療後的她後來從新選擇怎樣活,頭痛知道林小姐聽到了它想說的話,終於慢慢療癒了。

疾病焦慮障礙症 Illness anxiety disorder

如果你總覺得自己生病,你可能可以理解馬克。馬克可以聽到自己的呼吸。他告訴妻子和朋友,但他們說有時他們也能聽到自己的呼吸,沒什麼好擔心的。但是他非常擔心,他很怕自己可能有肺癌。兩年來他在多次拜訪不同醫生可是也沒有發現什麼。馬克的妻子鼓勵他尋求心理治療。

在治療的過程,馬克嘗試理解呼吸聲、肺癌和死亡之間的聯繫。馬克年少時目睹小的時候照顧他的祖母去世。他在她彌留時聽到她的呼吸聲。他對祖母有太多的遺憾。可是小時後他的家人沒有和他談過她的死,整個哀傷過程也很孤獨和有太多的不解。

祖母去世整整十年,馬克終於好好處理自己的哀傷、面對失去,並向祖母說出他想說的所有話。從死悟生,他轉化對肺癌和死亡的恐懼為能量,促使他更有動力好好活好每一天。他記起祖母時不再只有遺憾,他記得她是堅強而充滿愛的。他會把她這份精神延續下去。

馬克聽到的呼吸,彷彿在跟他說是時候好好處理哀傷,好好生活。

打開你的心跟身體對話。

你的病、你的痛有多困擾,你的身體就有多想告訴你屬於你的故事。

等你傾聽。

要安排與輔導心理學家Jessica Lau諮詢,請致電+852 2523 7121或在此處連結

*個案名稱和情況已被更改,以保護個案私隱

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