Nothing Stays the Same

Excerpts from "The Medicalization Of Mundane Experience: The 'Syndrome' Syndrome," by Ellen Langer, The Huffington Post, December 8, 2009:

There are actually 97 named syndromes. As a culture, I think we have the syndrome syndrome—the naming of sensations. This kind of naming has a hidden downside in that it may actually cause ill health.

There are syndromes that have been categorized and those that haven't, [but] what all of [them]... have in common is that people who are given these diagnoses probably feel some relief in knowing that their discomfort is "real." (Of course, it's real. Why should we think psychological discomfort is any less real than physical discomfort?) The problem is that once symptoms are given a name they run the risk of becoming more permanent than they might otherwise have to be.

Labels lead to expectations and expectations tend to be fulfilled. Surely there are instances when there are no symptoms, but these times are easily overlooked, making the diagnosis seem that much more accurate...when we expect symptoms now that we know we have a legitimate medical condition, we may be less likely to take steps to self-heal. After all, one may think, if it can be self-healed it wouldn't be a medical condition in the first place.

These syndromes are evidence of the medicalization of mundane experience. Sensations fluctuate. Sometimes they are there and sometimes not; sometimes their felt effects are great and sometimes not. By naming them we tend to hold them still and overlook all of this variability. If we mindfully attended to the changes we would at least stand a chance of healing them ourselves...

Nothing stays the same so no matter what the syndrome or disease, we can gain control in this way by mindfully attending to the variability and then questioning why the change occurred. If everything becomes a syndrome, we give up this control over our health. The cure, then, for the Syndrome Syndrome is to become mindful.

[Thanks Kit!]