Gain Insight: Sister Is Hypochondriac
Pat Palmeri of Insight Counseling & Psychological Assessment Paris Texas, is here to answer your questions. Use the form below to ask the therapist.
My sister is what you could call a hypochondriac. She gets sick all the time, usually in time for big social engagements. The latest illness is that she believes she is seriously sick, that she has cancer. Now I love my sister and we’ve had our disagreements but I do not believe she is that sick. She has always played the ill friend or colleague, since our childhood. Our parents are now siding with her, claiming she is very ill, though she has never seen a doctor for this. Could you tell me how I should handle this?
According to James Morrison, MD in DSM IV Made Easy, “Hypochondriasis is a mental health issue. No matter how much you prove to the person that they are ok, they will not believe it and may continue to seek out medical opinions from various doctors. It generally manifests between ages 20 to 30 years and peeks during 30 to 40 years of age. Many clients also report a high prevalence of childhood illnesses. This disorder causes a great deal of genuine misery for the client and the family.” Before such a diagnosis can be made a complete physical workup needs to be done by a physician to rule out a physical illnesses. Once this is established then the doctor will make the appropriate referrals. Most psychiatrists and mental health workers require a recent physical exam to make sure they are not dealing with an emotional issue brought on by a physical illness and could be better treated by a medical doctor. For example: a person comes in to see a mental health professional because of a mood swings. During the interview the client states that she has diabetes. Upon further investigation the client reveals her diabetes is not under control. At this point a referral will be made to her private healthcare professional before any mental health intervention is begun. The same is true of a hormonal problem that can manifest in what appears to be a psychological issue. Once the physical problem is treated there is generally no reason for mental health intervention. But the possibility that a physical issue exists must be ruled out before a referral to a mental health professional can be made. If your sister refuses to see a medical doctor to rule out a physical issue then I would encourage you and your parents to consider professional help to learn how to cope with this situation and determine with that professional if an intervention would be helpful. If the rest of the family refuses to go along with you on this then do it for yourself. Sometimes family problems are just too overwhelming to handle alone. At this point a third party (therapist) can help put things in perspective. From what you stated initially it sounds as though you are on your own. In this case make sure you take care of yourself.