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A neurologist explores the very real world of psychosomatic illness


Pauline first became ill when she was fifteen. What seemed to be a urinary infection became joint pain, then life-threatening appendicitis. After a routine operation Pauline lost all the strength in her legs. Shortly afterwards, convulsions started. But Pauline’s tests are normal: her symptoms seem to have no physical cause whatsoever.

This may be an extreme case, but Pauline is not alone. As many as a third of people visiting their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained. In most, an emotional root is suspected which is often the last thing a patient wants to hear and a doctor to say.

We accept our hearts can flutter with excitement and our brows can sweat with nerves, but on this journey into the very real world of psychosomatic illness, Suzanne O'Sullivan finds the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves.


Doctors' tales of their patients' weirder afflictions have been popular since Oliver Sacks... Few of them, however, are as bizarre or unsettling, as those described in this extraordinary and extraordinarily compassionate book

James McConnachie, Sunday Times

A fascinating glimpse into the human condition... a forceful call for society to be more open about such suffering

Ian Birrell, Daily Mail

An important study of psychosomatic illness, which shows it to be a serious disease of modern society: misunderstood, misdiagnosed and surrounded by fear

Louise Carpenter, Telegraph

Remarkable Book… Offer[s] a remarkable insight into the suffering of these patients, as well as the power of the mind over the body… It should be on the reading list of every medical student.

PD Smith, Guardian

A book to start a revolution in healthcare, to make use see what no one has seen so clearly before

Helen Rumbelow, Times

Honest, fascinating and necessary

David Aaronovitch, The Times

An extraordinary book... an important one too

Kathryn Hughes, 5 stars, Mail on Sunday

This vital, engaging book... holds its own with recent bestsellers Do No Harm, the memoir of a neurosurgeon, and The Examined Life, by psychiatrist Stephen Grosz

Hermione Eyre, Newsweek

It's All in Your Head sits companionably beside Stephen Grosz's The Examined Life... it casts sympathetic light on debilitating conditions that are often medically and socially vilified

Kate Colquhoun, Sunday Express

A doctor's intriguing look at the puzzling world of psychosomatic illness

Sunday Times

I don't read much fiction but I made an exception for this... Stress and sadness are motors of the subconscious, the mind is writer of medical fictions

Linda Grant, Metro

Like Oliver Sacks, Sullivan, a consultant neurologist, has a rich vein of experience to share

Lucasta Miller, Independent

A revealing book on the subject [of psychosomatic illness]

Psychologies Magazine

Sharp and intriuging

Doug Johnstone, Big Issue

She tackles more detailed medical and neurological aspects of the subject in an easily understandable, organic style, adding to the narrative rather than disrupting it

4 stars, BBC Focus

Rising stars of 2015: one to watch


Using a series of fascinating case studies as a framework, Dr O’Sullivan skillfully weaves the historical understanding, and misunderstanding, of functional illness into a series of narratives that are moving and thought provoking.

Adam Staten, British Journal of General Practice

A sympathetic, insightful study of psychosomatic illness

Charlie Hegarty, Catholic Herald

An excellent study of psychosomatic disorders

Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

Fascinating foray into the subject of how mental factors affect our health.

Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

Her Book, shortlisted for the 2016 Wellcome prize, describes case histories…with precision and compassion.

Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

It’s not only a beautifully written book…it’s also a book to start a revolution in healthcare.

Helen Rumbelow, The Times

It’s not only a beautifully written book…it’s also a book to start a revolution in healthcare.

Helen Rumbelow, The Times

Humane and deeply sympathetic.

Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

Humane and deeply sympathetic.

Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

Impressively vivid and sympathetic argument for the reality of the mind’s more harrowing inventions.

Brian Dillon, Irish Times

A compassionate, honest and compelling read.


She mixes an easily accessible vocabulary with complex medical terms, something which I found both enjoyable and informative… Ultimately I found this book quite fascinating… I would recommend this book, which contains some hard hitting and highly personal stories.

Independent Nurse

A great immersion in psychosomatic problems… If you want to get a head-on feeling for the clinical experience of psychosomatic patients, read this book.

Edward Shorter, British Medical Journal

[A] controversial but utterly compassionate memoir.

Damian Barr, Guardian

It is as addictive as a great box set makes you rethink some of your closest relationships and wonder about some of the people you know best; and above all, like all truly great book it is about love and compassion.

Sathnam Sanghera, The Times, Book of the Year

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    May 15, 2016


    336 pages

    RRP $22.99

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    June 4, 2015

    Vintage Digital

    336 pages

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