06/17/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Hypochondria: How It Became Its Own Illness

In modern times, hypochondria fell into low esteem and was considered beneath clinical regard; Freud threw up his hands, writing, "I have always felt the obscurity in the question of hypochondria to be a disgraceful gap in our work." Ironically, its decline seemed to be a function of its comical reputation as a thinking person's affliction--the furthest thing from an organic illness. Arthur Barsky, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of psychiatric research at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, admits that it can be a challenge to contest the popular view of hypochondria as a sport of high-strung, hyperbolic, navel-gazing attention-seekers. "Hypochondria is no fun," he says. "But we've still got a long way to go before it's regarded as a legitimate illness of the brain and not just material for jokes."

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