Hypochondria is a very troublesome psychological disorder and can even lead those who develop it to engage in behaviors that put their health at risk.
Fortunately, it is a disorder that can be treated effectively from a psychological point of view, and more specifically, of the cognitive-behavioral model applied to hypochondria. Let’s see how.
What is hypochondria?
Hypochondria, also called hypochondriac, is a psychopathological disorder in which the person develops a combination between the fear of developing one or two specific illnesses, on the one hand, and obsessive thoughts related to self-control and confirmation that they are suffering from the symptoms of these illnesses, on the other hand .
That is, the person suffers because of the fear generated by the idea of having developed a health problem, and at the same time becomes inclined to interpret any experience as a sign that he has developed this disease. , it therefore ends up resorting to self-diagnostic practices. Not even going to the doctor and being informed that he does not suffer from any disease can reassure the person in the medium and long term.
In this way, hypochondria can be seen as an extreme view of what happens to fearful people, but in a way it also has qualitatively different characteristics. For example, fear is always focused on diseases that arise in the body (and not on fear of injury), and in addition, hypochondria can interfere with the person’s quality of health by causing him to adopt behaviors. based on avoidance. A tendency to avoidance which is justified neither by their true state of health nor by the risks of contracting or aggravating a disease.
Also, in general, the discomfort associated with hypochondria is linked to real physical health problems, especially in the form of pain and itching. This is why it is included in somatomorphic disorder (recently called somatic symptom disorder), since the psychological discomfort generated by this vicious cycle of anxiety, self-control, and obsessive thoughts can lead to physical discomfort through suggestion.
On the other hand, it should be noted that the mere belief that one is in poor health without mentioning a particular disorder cannot be considered hypochondria. For this psychological disorder to occur, the person must name the pathology (s) they believe they have, and from these beliefs, somehow interprets things they consider to be symptoms. In any case, the diagnosis of such psychopathological problems can only be made by professionals in psychiatry and clinical psychology.
How is hypochondria treated in cognitive behavioral psychology?
As we have seen, hypochondria is based on a dynamic of feedback between anxiety and fear, on the one hand, and self-control behaviors, on the other. These two elements lead the person to be very prone to obsessive thoughts and to have a very biased view of their state of health, both through their thoughts and through their interactions with the environment and their own body. his body that concern him.
Cognitive-behavioral psychology is therefore very effective, because it also acts in two ways: it intervenes both in the mental and private processes associated with the management of emotions and thoughts and in observable actions. In fact, it has been observed that the effects of this form of psychological intervention persist long after the end of psychotherapy.
But let’s look in a little more detail at the psychological intervention processes that take place in the cognitive-behavioral model applied to hypochondria.
1. Challenge dysfunctional beliefs
Cognitive restructuring is one of the pillars of cognitive behavioral psychological intervention and consists of ask key questions and ideas that cause the person to question their most dysfunctional beliefs, those who supported the thought and behavior dynamics that give strength to the disorder.
That is, he does not directly confront the patient by reproaching him for believing certain things, but is invited to see for himself to what extent these ideas resist being opposed to reality.
2. Detection of problematic thoughts
Knowing how to identify recurring thoughts (that is, they seem to unintentionally burst into our consciousness) that precede self-controls is very helpful in neutralizing their influence on us. As we get used to seeing them from an objective and “uncluttered” point of view, we are more reluctant to let ourselves be carried away by the negative feelings they generate in us, because we insist on the predictability of these.
3. Training in anxiety management techniques
Some of these techniques have immediate effects, others have both immediate and cumulative effects in the medium and long term. Some examples of relaxation techniques would be diaphragm-controlled breathing, Jacobson progressive muscle relaxation, etc.
4. Development of new healthy lifestyle habits through a routine plan
This element of cognitive behavioral therapy involves both objectively limiting self-control behaviors (p. implementing life routines that were previously avoided for fear of making or contracting a disease, so that little by little the person learns to lose the fear of these experiences.
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Dams of Santa Cecilia
Dams of Santa Cecilia
Consultant psychologist: Master in cognitive-behavioral psychology
I am an expert psychologist in the cognitive-behavioral model and work with adults and adolescents. You can use my services in person during my consultation in Madrid, or through the online video call mode.