Hypochondriac or Vigilant Mom?

"My wife, Vicki, is a hypochondriac," says Harvey. "Vicki can go anywhere from one day, ‘I think I have breast cancer,' to the next day saying, ‘What if I have colon cancer?'" 

Vicki maintains that she's not obsessed with her health. "I believe I am vigilant about taking care of myself so I can be around to take care of my children," she says.  

The major illnesses that Vicki thought she had are: breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, ovarian cancer, lymphoma, tetanus, and heart problems. "I spend about three hours a day online researching diseases," she reveals. "A few months ago, I was having some abdominal discomfort. I looked online and I saw that these were the symptoms of ovarian cancer. The ultrasound determined that I had a hemorrhagic cyst. So I felt vindicated."

Vicki goes to the doctor about once a week, and she has two main physicians. She says that she needs to stay healthy for her kids. "My first husband was a police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty. It's important for me to stay healthy because I don't want them to go have to go through the trauma of losing their mother," she says.

Scott is unconvinced that his wife has a serious ailment. "It's hard for me to be supportive of something I don't believe to be normal," he says.

"Are you here to change this or defend it?" Dr. Phil asks Vicki. 

She replies, "Defend it."

Pointing out that Vicki believed she had tetanus, immune deficiency, lung cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma, liver disease, rectal cancer and a host of other diseases, Dr. Phil says, "You think all of those are reasonable concerns for you to have had?"

"Well, I think it's reasonable to imagine that it's a possibility "" she begins.

"That's not what you do," Dr. Phil interrupts. "You decide that you have it, you research it, you spend time on the Internet, and you go to the doctor once a week."

"Well, I go to the doctor to rule them out," Vicki clarifies. 

"What's left?" Dr. Phil teases. 

"I'm starting to feel better because I'm ruling them out. When I have a test and it comes back normal, then I know I have x-amount of time before I need to start thinking about that again," she explains. 

Addressing Harvey, Dr. Phil says, "Do you think this is abnormal?"

"It's very abnormal. It's OK to have aches and pains, but to have a new symptom every day, that's not normal," Harvey says. 

Dr. Phil turns to Kelly. "At some point, don't you say, ‘I need to change what I'm saying to myself'?" he asks. "Let's assume that you really aren't dying of 40 terminal diseases, simultaneously. What's your payoff for focusing on this so much?"

"I feel comforted when I get a normal test result back that shows that I'm healthy," Kelly responds. 

"That gives you kind of a fix. That relieves some tension, right?" Dr. Phil inquires. "Has this become a definition of who you are?"

"Sometimes, to some people," Kelly answers.


"No, to you," Dr. Phil says. "This is what you do, right? This is what you think about; this is what you spend your time looking at on the computer. This is who you are and what you do."

"I don't think of myself like that," she says. 

Dr. Phil explains that Vicki may have a disorder called somatization. "Sometimes, we have psychological discomfort. I think in your case, it's chronic anxiety. We don't know how to express things through psychological terms, so we convert it into physical: We can have headaches, backaches, imagined symptoms," he says. "We don't

know how to say, ‘I'm feeling anxiety here. I don't know what to do. If I can look up these symptoms and rule something out, that gives me temporary relief. I'm addicted to doctors. I'm addicted to symptoms. The reason I am is because I have so much anxiety that I feel like if I control this, then I'm in control.' In fact, it has nothing to do with having a brain tumor. Things do go wrong, but this is an anxiety disorder."

Dr. Phil says that with some professional help, Vicki's condition can improve. "If we reduce your anxiety through psychological channels, you won't need this obsession with physical ailments. You love to go to doctors. Let me arrange for you to see a doctor," he tells her. "That will actually give you some anxiety management tools that will lessen your need to get a fix on the Internet, or a fix with the doctor."

Vicki agrees to accept the help.