psychosomatic therapy london

Psychosomatic therapy London Guide

Psychosomatic therapy is a talking therapy designed to help people who have physical symptoms which cannot be explained from a medical perspective. If you’re experiencing any of the painful symptoms from the list below, and you’ve already seen your GP or doctor, it’s possible they might stem from a psychological or trauma-related problem.

Psychosomatic therapy addresses conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Eczema, ME and Chronic Fatigue, all of which can have an underlying psychological component. There can also be physical symptoms associated with the stress of grief and bereavement.

Although there’s a broad range of potential psychosomatic symptoms, the prominent ones are pain and fatigue. There are also other common symptoms:

  • Pain in the body including chest pain and back pain
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Insomnia and disrupted sleeping patterns
  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Rashes on the skin
  • Stomach ulcers

Considering therapy for psychosomatic issues

It can be a difficult choice to explore therapy if you have long standing physical complaints. This is partly because there’s a sort of stigma attached to anything that could be considered psychosomatic. You may have been rejected by doctors and specialists, who’ve told you it’s ‘all in the mind’.

This can be frustrating and shame-inducing, as psychosomatic symptoms are not all in the mind – they’re just as real as medically-justified symptoms. The difference is that they potentially have a psychological origin rather than a medical one.

The mind body connection

The concept of your mind affecting your body might seem far fetched if you’ve never considered it before. But when you look a little closer, there’s many obvious examples which get overlooked because we take them for granted.

Take crying for example. If you feel really upset, tears will flow from your eyes. If you’re frightened, your heartbeat rate will rise, and you might start sweating. These are normal, everyday examples of how your body responds to emotional distress.

There’s many other links – getting a headache when you’re under pressure, or your hands trembling before you make a presentation, blushing in embarrassment, or feel sick with worry.

What causes psychosomatic illness?

Most cases of how stress manifests in the body can be explained by the ‘fight or flight’ response. Historically, if we were in danger of attack from another animal, our bodies would rapidly release a cocktail of hormones into the bloodstream.

These would get us ready to stay and fight, or run as fast as we could. Muscles would tighten, breathing become more rapid and less important functions such as digestion would temporarily shut down. Once the threat passed, the body quickly returned to a homeostasis, and we’d carry on as normal.

In modern society, while we don’t encounter many wild animals, we live in stressful environments, with hectic work schedules, financial worries and impossible social expectations. This can keep us in a permanent fight or flight mode, with a constant flow of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline seeping into the bloodstream.

Being under stress can cause several medical problems, including high blood pressure and stomach ulcers. It can also make it harder to recover from other medical conditions or physical disease.

Does trauma cause psychosomatic problems?

There might also have been a trauma, or series of traumas – being at war, incurring childhood trauma, sexual abuse or bullying. This can also include the trauma of having a physical, medically confirmed illness.

These traumas (including PTSD and CPTSD) can keep your nervous system in a state of alert, resulting in a range of psychosomatic symptoms, including insomnia, pain and shortness of breath. They can also lower your immune system, increasing your risk of flu, colds or other more serious health problems.

“Mindfulness has been shown to have a positive effect on numerous psychiatric, psychosomatic, and stress-related symptoms, including depression and chronic pain.

It has broad effects on physical health, including improvements in immune response, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.”

Bessel van der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score)

Understanding psychosomatic disorders

There’s another type of psychosomatic symptom which is caused by suppressed emotions taking on physical expression. Sometimes an emotion or memory can be so threatening or potentially overwhelming that it is unknowingly kept from conscious awareness.

It might be memories of childhood sexual abuse, or the pain of early separation or narcissistic abuse. This can result in what doctors call psychosomatic disorder. It can include paralysis, phantom illnesses and dissociative seizures.

Psychosomatic disorder is characterised by long-term physical symptoms, which cannot be explained through medical diagnosis. The symptoms will be causing significant stress, and/or physical disability, impacting work, school or social life.

Someone might be thought to have a psychosomatic disorder if they make frequent visits to their GP or doctor for treatments or tests, but no medical causes can be found. This can frustrating for patients, because there will always be a proportion who have a condition with genuine medical causes, but have a condition which current medicine is not equipped to find.

Am I responsible for my illness?

There’s no doubt that our feelings, emotions and the way we think can have an affect on our physiology. But sometimes the concept can be taken too far, with people believing that they’re fully responsible for their illness.

This concept has become a cultural myth within certain circles, presumed to come from the ancient mystical traditions, but really coming from new age self-help books such as Louise L Hay’s ‘You Can heal Your Life’.

‘You can Heal Your Life’ was an international bestseller, with an appendix listing all the body parts, along with the emotions or thoughts that cause illness in them. The book spreads the message that we create every illness in our bodies, and that our lives will work perfectly when we truly love ourselves.

While I would always encourage clients to develop self love and compassion, it would be wrong to suggest that it would mean an end to all of their problems, whether physical of emotional. If you did get a serious disease, self compassion may well have a positive affect on the future prognosis. But its real value would be in helping you come to terms with your vulnerability without any self-blame or guilt.

Psychosomatic therapy London

Because every client is different, bringing their own history, personality and unique symptoms, the therapy treatment will vary depending on individual needs. Psychosomatic therapy normally consists of a combination of psychotherapy, body awareness, CBT, trauma work and mindfulness.

The aim of therapy is to reduce the physical symptoms that you’re suffering from by improving your mental health. It will involve an exploration of your inner world, the story of your childhood and identifying and processing traumas from the past.

It will be in the form of talking therapy, but will also include awareness of sensations in the body. As you become more sensitive to feelings and emotions in the body, you may discover long-held emotions, such as fear of rejection or deep sadness, that may have been causing physical symptoms.

Psychosomatic therapy is a holistic therapy, which will also boost your overall well being, helping with your relationships, confidence, anxiety, social anxiety and depression. To explore the how your pain, fatigue or other physical sensations may be helped with psychosomatic therapy, don’t hesitate to get in touch and arrange an initial consultation, where we can too about your needs in more detail.

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Daren Banarsë MBACP

I'm a licensed psychotherapist and counsellor, with a private practice in Central London. I treat anxiety, depression and relationship issues with trauma-informed therapy. I have a background in music and the arts.