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About the book
  • Published: 4 June 2015
  • ISBN: 9781473511439
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 336

It's All in Your Head

Stories from the Frontline of Psychosomatic Illness

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.

  • Pub date: 4 June 2015
  • ISBN: 9781473511439
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 336

About the Author

Suzanne O'Sullivan

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan has been a consultant in neurology since 2004, first working at The Royal London Hospital and now as a consultant in clinical neurophysiology and neurology at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, and for a specialist unit based at the Epilepsy Society. She specialises in the investigation of complex epilepsy and also has an active interest in psychogenic disorders. Suzanne’s book about psychosomatic illness, It's All in Your Head, won both the Wellcome Book Prize and the Royal Society of Biology Book Prize.

Also by Suzanne O'Sullivan

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Praise for It's All in Your Head

“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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