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It's All in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,422 ratings  ·  261 reviews
A neurologist's insightful and compassionate look into the misunderstood world of psychosomatic disorders, told through individual case histories ...more
Paperback, 315 pages
Published April 14th 2016 by Vintage (first published June 4th 2015)
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Cameron Yorke I have met Suzanne O'Sullivan, and I think this is unfair of you. Whether you believe what she is writing or not, this book was written after consider…moreI have met Suzanne O'Sullivan, and I think this is unfair of you. Whether you believe what she is writing or not, this book was written after considerable research over a number of years, based on the cases she worked with as a qualified physician. These are genuine, true stories of the pain and symptoms her real live patients have displayed, and she an incredibly honest, self effacing and compassionate person, with a genuine desire to help these people. I think the book was incredibly well written and describes a phenomenon of which little is written or in fact known about. Well done to her for bringing it out into the open and also for suggesting that we as a society place too much importance on physiological diagnosis and not enough on the patient's psychological trauma or well being. Her findings in this book are backed up by statistics gathered by a number of different sources within the medical profession and as time goes on I'm sure there will be many more incidences of stories similar to Suzanne's case studies which will come to light. I can assure you that she is an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and empathetic person.(less)
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Petra-X Off having adventures
I well knew the power of the mind over the body since I was 13 and 'gave' myself appendicitis. I had a test on Anna Karenina and hadn't read the 800 page book. I said I had a tummy ache and went to the school sick room and read all day.

That night I had to go to Hebrew school and I had forgotten about a test so I said I had a tummy ache and drew a picture until my father came to pick me up and I went straight to bed to read Anna Karenina for the test next day still feigning pain.

At midnight I wo
Jun 06, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I imagine the publisher was excited by Dr O'Sullivan's 'ideas' - I saw the words 'groundbreaking' and 'controversial' in one of the blurbs. Imaginary illness carries notions of madness across the centuries, as readers we are intrigued - and seduced. However, having read in detail the chapter 'Rachel', which deals with a young woman with 'ME/CFS', I can say that the book is certainly not groundbreaking, but rather, in the case of ME, an irresponsible recycling of a dying - very dangerous - narrat ...more
Maik Speedy
Jun 07, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It saddens me to see that a so badly researched chapter about ME/CFS, a disease which has been classified as a neurological disease by the WHO since 1969, was published in this book.

In February 2015 the IOM, the Institute of Medicine, a prestigious American Institute, came out with a report about ME/CFS concluding that ME/CFS "is a medical—not a psychiatric or psychological—illness"

On the 2nd of April 2015 prof Newton published an article in which she let
Emily B
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting and informative read for sure. Many of the case studies in this book have stuck with me since I’ve read this book.
It wasn’t too scientific or medical and therefore was not too laborious to read. IT had a good balance between information and the telling of people’s stories
O’Sullivan is a UK-based neurology consultant. I picked this up from the bestsellers shelf of the library on a whim because I knew it had won the Wellcome Book Prize, awarded to a fiction or nonfiction book on a medical subject. The kinds of conditions she writes about go by many names: psychosomatic illnesses, conversion disorders, or functional conditions. In every case the patients have normal neurological test results – they do not have epilepsy or nerve damage, for instance – but still suff ...more
Suzanne O'Sullivan is a neurologist consultant based in the UK. In It's All in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness she details the case histories of various patients who present with neurological symptoms. However, these patients have normal neurological test results, no organic cause can be found for their illness, but they still suffer from e.g. dissociative seizures or have lost the ability to move a limb. They suffer from a psychosomatic disorder. The cause of this is attributed to ...more
Chris Steeden
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘Psychosomatic disorders are conditions in which a person suffers from significant physical symptoms – causing real distress and disability – out of proportion to that which can be explained by medical tests or physical examination’.

I am guessing that this book is controversial in some people’s eyes even though O’Sullivan states ‘I hope to communicate to others what my patients have taught me. Perhaps then, future patients – people like you and me, our friends, families and colleagues – will not
Sergio  Mori
It has some interesting bits but all in all it has two massive flaws:
1) the title. She doesn't consider them to be imaginary. It's just an annoying marketing ploy.
2) the biggie for me: she doesn't follow up the cases so we don't know if they are success stories or not. For all we know, patients could have been leading a more functional and happier life with the alleged misdiagnosis.

Also, the chapter on ME/CFS feels undocumented and even preposterous, almost as if she had a bone to pick.

But I l
Jun 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was a truly fascinating read. I have always accepted that there is a strong link between the brain and the body and that the brain can produce symptoms in the body which are wholly unrelated to any physical cause. When I was a child I always used to get a stomach upset on the first day of the school term. Once I was at school the upset disappeared completely. My mother sat me down and explained to me that sometimes the brain plays tricks on the body and that I would feel all ...more
Jun 17, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, medical, own
I was sadly, deeply disappointed by this book.

Her writing is fine, she's an obviously experienced doctor with many tales of interest and but if you know anything about psychiatry, psychology or modern neurology, you will find her stories a bit less than fulfilling. She tries really hard to seem compassionate and empathetic but it just appears like a long excuse for having horrible bedside manner and being really poorly versed in anything but her own specialty of seizures. In which case, I'd ask
Jon Morris smith
Now I like a good surgical memoire - my top recommendation is "when he air hits your brain" which is both a memoire, an insight into neurosurgery and an historical journey through the evolution of the discipline... ditto for "Do No Harm"

... however, while enjoyable, I felt that the patient accounts were somewhat incomplete - the conclusion of the cases and the patient's journey to recovery (or not) was often omitted. So these were more 'case studies' if you wish, to serve as illustrations of con
Monica Willyard Moen
The chances are good that someone you know has a somatic illness and doesn't know it. This empowering, intriguing book explains how the mind can control parts of the body to create genuine symptoms such as pain, blindness, and paralysis, even when all test results are normal. The author doesn't excellent and compassionate job of explaining that while the symptoms are caused by the mind, they are still just as real as if something were physically wrong with the body. Now, scientists are performin ...more
Feb 14, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I would like to give the book a much higher rating. I admire Dr. Sullivan's understanding and compassion for the very real suffering of patients with psychosomatic illness (but I cringe at the titles of both versions of her book with their long-standing negative connotations for the general public.)

However, applying the label of psychosomatic illness (even in a somewhat modified way as she does) to ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) is just wrong. To her credit, Dr. Su
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medical
Spoiler alert (well, kind of!) - I'm a doctor and this book has been recommended to me by a colleague - having said that I think that this book should and could be read and appreciated by anyone, just as long as they're a human being! It continues to astound me that (especially the medical profession) think that our metal health and physical health are discrete entities. When we have a physical injury it's going to affect our minds so, similarly, when we're mentally unwell it makes sense that ou ...more
Ian Kirkpatrick
Jun 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was tempted to purchase this book having read the extracts in the weekend Guardian magazine a few weeks ago. This accessible and insightful book provides a brief glimpse into some of the complexities of the human condition through the real-life stories of patients with a variety of psychogenic disorders.

Perceptive, engaging and really well-written, this gives a fascinating insight into the working practice of a neurophysiologist. O'Sullivan balances true stories of some of the many patients sh
Aug 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. I found a lot of things frustrating in this book. First of all, the doctor seemed very reluctant to believe anything her patients were saying and seemed determined to prove them wrong.

Also, many of the case studies ended abruptly and we weren't told whether or not the patient recovered. What's the point in only giving us half the story?!
Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
Stress affects us all. We are aware that we might have a racing heart during an important meeting, but few of us know that it can cause our bodies to react in more extreme ways. Some people can become completely disabled – unable to move a limb, or become overwhelmed by seizures.

Up to a third of all GP consultations are taken by people who are found to have no physical explanation for their symptoms. In this book Suzanne O’Sullivan, a consultant neurologist, investigates the root cause of some o
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A good read for understanding the experiences of living with psychosomatic disorders and how doctors work with them in clinics.

The author has managed to explain complex medically unexplained disorders and illnesses in a clear and simple manner without using medical or psychological jargon. The characters illustrated in the case studies were quite lively. She is trying to get people to understand the plight of this clinical group, and I think she has used the stories of some very interesting pat
Paula Maguire
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book a lot and was glad to be given it by AS for my birthday as I had already bought it for A as she is studying medicine. I remember reading a review saying that anybody who is studying medicine should read it . I also related well to this book as I know I suffer from psychosomatic pain from time to time and its comforting to know that although there is no organic reason for my pain, there is still pain - though the cure is psychological - in my case body scans and relaxation - T ...more
Patrick Carroll
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can imagine (irony?) the conversation between the author and the publisher, "It's a great book Suzanne so we thought the best title would be 'It's all in your Head - True Stories of Imaginary Illness'" and Dr O'Sullivan going, "But you've missed the point! The book is about how sufferers of disassociative seizures and other psychogenic disorders for which there aren't a medical explanation DON'T imagine anything, it is utterly real to them, as are the many physiological changes, in the way it ...more
Stefania Panaetescu
Sep 12, 2017 rated it liked it
First of all, I have to point out the huge marketing mistake it was made through the subhead of some editions of this book, "True stories of Imaginary Illness". This is so misleading and wrong, psychosomatic disorder is far from being imaginary! All the simptoms of this illness are real and very often debilitating. Just because they have a psychological cause and not an organic one, doesn't mean they are imaginary. What I cannot understand is how the author agreed to this blunder in the first pl ...more
Shona Dickson
It has the potential to be interesting but disappoints slightly. It's long winded at times and very repetitive. Having said that, it kept me reading to the end but some of the chapters were spoilt by alternating from patient story to neurology history (some of which was interesting) back to patient story. Sometimes I forgot what the original case study was about.
I've read more interesting books like this such as Henry Marsh's Do No Harm.
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: four-star
A fascinating glimpse at the world of psychosomatic illness, primary those affecting the brain and various neurological related issues, including epilepsy. Although this book has drawn criticism from the chronic fatigue syndrome community, I felt it was a well written and articulate account of how the mind and general psychological principles affect physical illness.

The author draws upon her experiences as a consultant of neurology to discuss issues surround so called imaginary illness and it’s
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The mind has magnificent power over the body! Not just the conscious, but the unconscious and it's much harder to know when the body struggle for physical reason or it's the unconscious mind screaming for help through the body.
The book is repeating stories that all leads to the same conclusion, it's a must read for everyone who thinks psychosomatic illness are not worthy of attention and proper treatment and consider psychiatrist only for "insane" people.
Jan 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting book about a rare and peculiar phenomenon: conversion hysteria as manifested by seizures with no organic genesis. Although the author figures that 30 percent of hysterical seizures have a root cause in dissociation from sexual or physical trauma, which is about all one regularly reads about this, the curious part to me is what causes the other 70 percent?

The author acknowledges these conversion seizures are real and can be measured by EEGs, EKGs, and other physical tools; she
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The author paints neurologists in a realllllyyyyy bad light. Or at least just herself. I understand that psychosomatic disorders are still alien to the medical world, however, her personal stories involving LAUGHING at and mocking patients behind their backs is very unprofessional (even if it’s just a trainee doctor) and maybe something she should’ve left out, or maybe tried to cover it up. I’m saying this only because if anyone with psychosomatic disorders were to read this, they’ll probably fe ...more
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
When I picked up O’Sullivan’s book, I assumed it would be something like Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: Case studies of people with rare and unexplained psychosomatic disorders. Fairly voyeuristic, but interesting for a layman reader.

This book is not that. Not funny or poignant anecdotes that an average person could enjoy and learn from. Instead, O’Sullivan shares stories of complicated patients she’s worked with, her reactions as a professional, and the history and perce
Isabel Losada
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has completely changed my ideas about psychosomatic illness. To be fair to myself, I don't think those ideas were particularly well formed in the first place. I think I just thought that something psychosomatic was formed by the mind but 'made up' in some way - or worse still - did I imagine that a psychosomatic illness was in some way 'faked'? I wish I had been asked that question, in depth, before I'd started to clarify just how ill informed I was. Certainly I would not have expected ...more
Essam Munir
In this book she described what many physicians encounter but don't speak of. The struggle of trying to explain to patients what they have, they struggle of trying to cure them, and the struggle to show them that you want to help.
Psychosomatic or functional neurological disorders are common but reside in the dark corners of every physician.
The patients' struggles are real but accepting the diagnosis is difficult.
An interesting read for those who are interested in these disorder although you may
Aug 14, 2016 rated it liked it
O'Sullivan is a neurologist who specialises in psychosomatic disorders. Here she recounts some of her more memorable cases. I found this fascinating; the human mind and body is such a complex organism and it amazes me what we're capable of, even when things are going wrong. A good introduction to this particular illness. ...more
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“All my patients are individuals with their own story to tell, their own set of problems and their own solution. Even where the symptoms of their distress are very similar, the roads that bring them to me are not. Each of them teaches me something important, just as each new patient I meet reminds me that there is always more to learn.” 3 likes
“People look for explanations for changes in their bodies, something to account for every unpleasant feeling. There is an unwillingness to accept behavioural or emotional factors, or the effects of aging, as an explanation.” 2 likes
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