Is there a difference between disease and illness?

In my practice as a medical psychologist, I have noticed that when a person experiences undesirable symptoms, for example pain, that there is often a distinction between what their physician calls a disease versus what the patient calls her illness. In other words, there is often a distinction made between disease and illness.

Clinical experience has shown that people categorize their ideas about an illness around 5 themes:

  1. Identity that is how do you see yourself now that you have this illness, for example do you say I am hypertensive, meaning I have high blood pressure, or do you say I watch how much salt I take because my blood pressure seems to go too high when I take up too much salt.
  2. Cause What do you think has caused your illness? Sometimes lifestyle choices do lead to some diseases, sometimes a disease happens on its own. So what is your belief system about what caused your illness.
  3. Timeline How long do you think your illness will continue? For example, do you think this is going to last a week, or do you suspect this is going to stay with you for a lifetime, or somewhere in between.
  4. Consequences How much does your illness affect your life? For example, now that you have this disease, in what ways has your life been affected by it?
  5. Cure or Control how much do you think your treatments can help your illness or how much control do you feel you have over your illness?

So once these 5 themes have been addressed, then you have a much better understanding of what your illness is, regardless of what the disease is all about. This means you might have a much better chance of going about treating your illness in a far more effective way. In other words, you will have the chance to do, what is called Self Management.

Self Management is the capacity of a patient to take appropriate responsibility for dealing with all aspects of their illness including the symptoms, the treatments, physical and social consequences and lifestyle changes.

As a medical psychologist, my job is to help people self manage their illness. For example, patients can learn how to monitor their condition and how to make whatever changes in their thought patterns, their behaviors and their emotions so that they can notice a satisfactory quality of life.

For help on best ways to self-manage your health and or the course of your illness, please contact me at or 831-621-1150

Warm regards,
G. Katie Dashtban, Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Health Psychologist, PSY22256

This service is provided by Dr. Katie Dashtban, Psy.D.

Katie defines her role as a psychologist as one who holds a guiding light, while her patients choose the turns in this maze we call life. In her practice, Katie refrains from offering advice, but instead helps her patients overcome obstacles that cause emotional suffering, and shows them tools to use when deciding on the desired changes in their lives.