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It’s Not Necessarily All in Your Head

Patients also are to blame. In a time when there are television commercials for pills for everything from depression to anxiety to sleep disturbance, the public has become increasingly willing to accept the idea that a pill will make it all go away. It’s far easier for many people to think of themselves as a little anxious, for example, than to consider that they might have a serious illness. In that sense, the pill culture contributes to people’s understandable denial when things begin to go wrong. Sadly, this can also mean that illnesses don’t get caught early and treatment can get delayed.

As consumers, it’s our job to give our doctors the information they need. But people in discomfort and distress aren’t always their most organized, most effective selves. Sometimes a patient might not be assertive about symptoms and be too easily persuaded that the complaint is minor. Or the patient may be shy and not want to share something felt to be deeply personal. Or the patient may not understand that the minor ache here could be related to the major problem there so doesn’t think to mention it. Or the patient just gets flustered by the doctor’s obvious need to move on.

Our doctors don’t have time to chat. We need to use their time wisely and well. Prepare for an appointment. Bring an organized list of complaints (including when they started, when and how often they happen, and how distressing they are) , a list of all medications and substances being used (including dosages and when you take them), and a brief summary of sleep, nutrition, and exercise habits so the doctor has what he or she needs to investigate the problem. If you are someone who gets easily rattled when under pressure or who is rather shy, it’s a good idea to bring a trusted friend or relative with you to appointments. There are then two of you to make sure you get through your list and hear accurately what the doctor has to say.

Getting good care requires teamwork. Each new symptom is a mystery that takes good detective work to solve. Sometimes it really is “all in your head.” But sometimes, maybe even most of the time, there are other reasons for your distress. When patients and their doctors look at the total picture (body and mind), it is far more likely that a correct diagnosis is made and that appropriate treatment follows.

It’s Not Necessarily All in Your Head

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). It’s Not Necessarily All in Your Head. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.