The (Pervasive) External-Illness Model

by Mike Sententia on September 25, 2012

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Yesterday, I wrote how the illness-as-demon model turns illness into something external to be fought, rather than something internal to be healed, and why it needs to die.

In all fairness, we also talk about medical conditions as if they’re something separate from the person. We say “Bob has OCD,” rather than “Bob’s mind obsesses about certain actions,” even though the second description is more accurate.

(This isn’t an original idea. I read it somewhere, years ago. I can’t recall where, though.)

To me, this is just a quirk of language. I’m not worried about this, in the same way I hate the demon-as-illness model, because while people talk about having illnesses, they still fundamentally understand the illness as something to be healed, rather than something to be shielded against or punched in the nose.

Why do we talk about illness as something you have? Probably because it’s comforting for the person, and lets them imagine themselves as a healthy person who just happens to “have” this external illness.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ananael Qaa September 26, 2012 at 6:46 AM

To be fair, with a lot of illnesses the “has” construction is accurate. A bacteria or virus, after all, is an external agent that causes disease. Really, the issue is more one of linguistic precision. To group, say, bipolar disorder and influenza together in a single class called “illnesses” is kind of odd when you think about it, because they are two completely and utterly different things.

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Mike Sententia September 26, 2012 at 1:59 PM

Good points. I concur.

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