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Interpretation of Illness

Frederic D. Homer

225 pages
Purdue University Press

Georg Groddeck (1866-1934), who was trained as a physician but became famous for his success as a healer, introduced a radical concept in The Book of It: that we virtually always cause our own illness and injury; therefore, we can cure and avoid both. Groddeck utilized the technique of psychoanalysis – which had just been invented by Freud – to communicate with the source of the illness, which he called the “the it” (or the map of the psyche). He believed the “it” had the power to cure illness as well as cause it. Perhaps science is catching up with Groddeck’s notion, for modern currents in medicine suggest there is a linkage between the way we live, the way we think, and illness. Readings in behavioral medicine indicate that we do have control over our immune system; and empirical studies of behavior show a strong relationship between stress and illness. In The Interpretation of Illness, Homer goes beyond Groddeck's initial insight to emphasize that illness is a communication to others, especially a call for sympathy. No one consciously likes to be sick or hurt; but we all, consciously or unconsciously, tell others about our ills, expecting them to extend sympathy. Homer argues that if we change this pattern of communication – either by learning to forego sympathy or by gaining it in less destructive ways – we can prevent illness or alleviate existing symptoms. The change in communication involves expressing ourselves knowingly and deliberately to others. Interpretation is a series of letters from Homer, writing under the persona Augie, to a friend. Appropriately enough, this style is similar to the format used by Groddeck in The Book of the It.

Author Bio
Frederic D. Homer, formerly an assistant professor of political science at Purdue University, is assistant professor of political science and director of the Administration of Justice Program at the University of Wyoming.