To convince a nervous patient that his or her symptoms are caused by an abnormal emotional state, and not by organic disease, is an extremely difficult matter. Quite likely some physician in whom they have complete confidence has already told them that the glandular system is weakened or out of balance, and this has served as a comfortable alibi ever since. The fact, however, that after repairing the damage in the glandular system the symptoms still persist, has rather blandly escaped their attention.
If the physician bluntly tells the patient “There is nothing the matter with you,” the effect is so frequently the opposite of the desired one. The patient becomes resentful and accuses the physician of lack of knowledge or sympathy, and loses entire faith.
On the other hand, through lack of courage, to attempt to justify the symptoms on some highly speculative or unproved basis, is equally disastrous, because from that time on the nervous patient has a logical alibi for the symptoms, and derives great satisfaction in elaborating in extremely technical language just why the symptoms occur and persist.
A safe and logical procedure is to explain first that while no organic disease has been found, it is recognized that the symptoms are real to the patient, but are brought about by an over-development of the emotional centers, and not by organic disease. Often the abnormal emotional state is produced by fear, anxiety, worry or initiated by some trivial organic disease which has long since passed away.
The problem is not so simple as it may appear, and failures are common. Every physician develops his individual technique of handling these problems, and it would help tremendously if all physicians were tactful and sympathetic, yet stayed entirely within the bounds of strict fact and refused to be a party to an alibi.
In many organic diseases the patient may remain a passive spectator and the disease be completely eradicated. Not so with functional diseases. Here, as in no other branch of healing, is it so necessary for the patient to become an active player in the game.
There must be a desire to recover normal control of one’s own nerves. There must be a willingness to take all the bumps and bruises. This attitude will first be manifested by a candid admission that the emotional centers are the cause of the trouble, and an active effort made to put on the brakes when necessary.
The symptoms, severe though they may be, must be minimized and not magnified. Completely ignore them whenever possible. It is easy to look lightly upon many aches and pains if we are thoroughly convinced they will not do us permanent damage. By following this simple rule a great improvement is immediately apparent, and the sufferer soon realizes that for the first time reason and not worry sits in the driver’s seat.
The road is not smooth, and the sufferer will be assailed with doubts and fears whenever a temporary looseness of the brakes occurs. Faith in one’s own ability to do whatever others have done, and prove one’s worth to society, will help a great deal in re-establishing confidence in one’s own machinery.