What is Factitious Disorder and How Can You Overcome It?
By Dr Becky Spelman
Factitious Disorder is a somatic symptom disorder – also known as Munchausen Syndrome – in which the individual feigns either physical or mental illness. It can be an extremely hard condition to diagnose. Their claims of suffering from a certain condition may be fabricated, but sometimes, the symptoms may be real. In some cases, the sufferer can be extremely knowledgeable about the condition they’re claiming and may have inflicted pain on themselves or induced symptoms to legitimise their claims.
Although the DSM-5 groups Factitious Disorder within the Somatic Symptom Disorder grouping, it is something of an anomaly. Unlike other conditions within that group, such as conversion disorder, pain disorder and others, the individual doesn’t experience pain apart from that which they cause themselves. And although there are some similarities to health anxiety, the condition remains within its own bracket of categorisation.
The motivations behind Factitious Disorder are usually rooted in garnering attention. However, this often takes place on the subconscious level. Many people who suffer from the condition don’t realise what they’re doing. Their actions are based on an emotional neediness that sees them adopt the role of victim to elicit a caring response from friends, relatives and most importantly, medical professionals.
This can often relate to feelings of abandonment that were seeded in childhood. Where Factitious Disorder is concerned, there is often no tangible reward involved. There is no ulterior motive involving time off work, money and or any other benefits that can be derived from feigning illness.
Here are some of the biggest signs and symptoms that may indicate someone is suffering from Factitious Disorder.
Demonstrating extensive knowledge about the condition they’re claiming trouble with.
Giving a vague explanation of symptoms that appear inconsistent.
The condition gets worse with no indication why.
The condition doesn’t respond to standard therapies.
The person will refuse doctors permission to speak to friends and family.
The person is frequently staying in hospital.
There is an openness to surgery and tests with known side-effects.
Will open question the knowledge of doctors and nurses.
Will have few visitors if staying in hospital.
In the first instance, diagnosing someone with Factitious Disorder is extremely difficult because they can be so adept at faking/manufacturing the symptoms of the condition they’re citing. Unfortunately, there is no preventative measures that can be taken before several episodes have played out and a pattern has been established, because the tendency is to be supportive of someone who’s claiming either physical or psychological distress. The irony is that although someone will actively seek treatment for their fictitious condition, rarely will they seek help for Factitious Disorder, itself.
When someone does seek help for their condition, the primary route would be psychotherapy. Since Factitious Disorder is a behavioural issue, the most effective form of treatment would be Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Using this approach will allow the individual to modify their behaviour, creating new, more positive patterns that will replace the need to seek out attention. It can also be beneficial for the person to take part in family therapy in conjunction to educate relatives on the need not reinforce the attention-seeking behaviour.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
***If you’re struggling with your factitious disorder and think you might benefit from speaking to someone about your situation, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.
Mayo Clinic. (2018) Factitious Disorder.Retrieved on 15th January, 2020 from, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/factitious-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20356034
WebMD. (2018) Munchausen Syndrome.Retrieved on 15th January, 2020 from, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/munchausen-syndrome#1
Cleveland Clinic. (2018) An Overview of Factitious Disorder.Retrieved on 15th January, 2020 from, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9832-an-overview-of-factitious-disorders
What is Factitious Disorder and How Can You Overcome It? was last modified: January 7th, 2021 by Dr Becky Spelman
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