Illness narrative has often been found to play a positive role in both patients' and providers' efforts to find meaning in the illness experience. However, illness narrative can sometimes become counterproductive, even pathological, particularly in cases of medical mystery--cases wherein biopsychosocial factors blur the distinction between bodily dysfunction and somatizing behavior. In this article, the author draws attention to two examples of medical mystery, the clinical presentation of medically unexplained symptoms, and the popular reality television program Mystery Diagnosis, to demonstrate the potentially harmful effects of illness narrative. The medical mystery's complex narrative structure reflects and tends to reinforce providers' and patients' mistaken assumptions, anxieties, and conflicts in ways which obstruct, rather than facilitate, healing.
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