“I came to the conclusion that the only disease I didn’t have was washerwoman’s knee.”
Jerome K. Jerome

In the spring of 1889, Jerome K. Jerome suspected that he was suffering from hay fever. Since he didn’t feel like standing in line in the waiting room of his attending physician, he popped into the library of the British Museum to ascertain his symptoms for himself with a medical encyclopedia.
As soon as he got the book, he set about reading everything he had to read, and then, partly out of curiosity and partly probably because he had no other business, he began to flip through the pages.

I can no longer remember the first disease I plunged into – I know it was a fearsome, devastating scourge – and before I had glanced at one half of the list of ‘premonitory symptoms,’ I was already well and truly convinced that I was suffering from it. I stood for a while chilling with horror; and then, in the heedlessness of despair, I turned the other pages. I came to typhoid – read the symptoms of it – realized I had it (I must have had it for months without knowing it) – wondered what else I had; encountered the St. Vitus dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to take an interest in my case, and resolved to go through with it, began alphabetically – read about malaria and learned that I was suffering from it and that the acute phase would begin in about a fortnight. I consoled myself by finding that I had albuminuria only in an attenuated form, and therefore, as far as I was concerned, I could live for years and years yet. I had cholera with serious complications; and it seems that with diphtheria I had been born with it. I laboriously and conscientiously went through all the letters of the alphabet, and I could conclude that the only disease I did not have was washerwoman’s knee.” Jerome K. Jerome

What you have just read comes from the opening of “Three Men in a Boat,” a hilarious novel by Jerome K. Jerome that dates back to 1889.

In the very first pages, the author as well as the main character tells precisely that he has leafed through a medical encyclopedia and thus convinced himself that he has all the diseases listed. Except for “the washerwoman’s knee.”

What Jerome experiences in 1889 London on the pages of a medical encyclopedia in the British Museum library still happens every day. It happens in Turin, in San Remo, in the dank towns of the Venetian lagoon. It happens in Tooting1, Toronto, Termoli, Tokyo.

At some point, Jerome from Tooting1, Jane from Toronto, Peppina from Termoli, and Huan from Tokyo decide to research a particular symptom. They don’t need a library: all they need is a smartphone. Wherever they are, all they have to do is ask the search engine for the network to fill their screens with links that refer to gigabytes of information.

And that’s when they start reading….

Jerome from Tooting fears he is suffering from depression.
Jane from Toronto lives in a condition of chronic stress that causes her to feel quite anxious.
Peppina from Termoli has heard from her hairdresser that what happens to her when she feels her heart beating wildly could be a panic attack.
Huan finds it increasingly difficult to leave the house and relate to people, so he suspects a form of social phobia.

None of them has a degree in psychology or psychiatry.

None of them has yet sought professional help.

In Peppina’s case, not even the general practitioner. The little information about emotions and the mind is a cocktail of hearsay and excerpts from articles, hardly scientific in nature.

Precisely because of this, reading the list of symptoms and sensations on any given page, all four are in danger of having a distorted perception, just like the protagonist of “Three Men in a Boat.”

“Each time the diagnosis seems to correspond with extraordinary exactitude to all the feelings I have experienced,” he says.

“So I’m depressed, not a sourpuss,” Jerome thinks as he reads an excerpt on a newspaper blog, while Jane confirms her fear of suffering from anxiety, Huan self-diagnoses social phobia, and Peppina convinces herself that she has experienced several panic attacks.

Here is the first pitfall of self-diagnosis: cognitive bias!

Despite advances in science and medicine, and despite the technological acceleration of our world, the mind, our emotions, and the brain itself are extremely complex.
They are extremely complex even for professionals who spend their whole lives studying and researching.

Let alone for those who open a link and read twenty or thirty lines without having any understanding of what they are reading. Nor who the author is, or the sources, and the relative scientific validity.
Not to mention the risk that the article in question was not even written by a human being…

  • What if what leads one to be convinced of a particular discomfort in the emotional and psychic sphere was processed by a machine?
  • What if the information was not only superficial, but even wrong?

Here is a good reason to avoid self-diagnosis and instead seek help from someone who really knows how to help us out!


But even if the information were correct, super timely, there would remain the question of how to analyze it, how to contextualize it, and how to relate the data to each other.

  • What if self-diagnosis triggers processes that are anything but positive?
  • What if self-diagnosis is not helpful at all?
  • If it led to counterproductive outcomes?
  • What if by convincing herself of a certain discomfort, and proceeding independently with the self-diagnosis of panic attacks, Peppina avoided seeking help from a doctor, perhaps suffering (but hopefully not!) from tachycardia?

…Spoiler: it does!

Self-diagnosis is dangerous. Dangerous as hell.
It is in any case, but especially when it concerns everything we do not see, that is, it touches our emotional and psychic sphere.

The problem is that unless we are a surgeon, or Rambo in the jungle, it would never occur to any of us to self-suture a wound, or to extract a tooth ourselves. The wound shows, and the tooth hurts.

The emotions we feel, on the other hand, are invisible….
Not only that. Our emotions, no matter how hard the sciences try to categorize, classify and label them, are only ours.

Emotions are only our own!

That is, always personal. Very, very specific. None of them are wrong.

As Sue Johnson reminds us, there is no such thing as a “maladaptive” emotion(we mentioned it here, talking about the differences between EMOTIONALLY FOCUSED THERAPY, by Sue Johnson, and EMOTION FOCUSED THERAPY, by Leslie Greenberg).

Every emotion deserves to be embraced.

But how to embrace something we feel as aliens and we don’t like at all, usually we really wanna just get free from them?

Another good reason to avoid self-diagnosis concerns the fact that our feelings and emotional occurrences are often overlapping.
…All the more so when we lack the terminology and knowledge to distinguish, accommodate, and embrace them.

Finally…. self-diagnosis leaves us even more alone, feeling that we are wrong, feeling that we are not functioning well, and with no one to take us by the hand and accompany us to the other side of the road where we can begin to walk away from suffering and move toward acceptance, away from chaos, and toward serenity and non-solitude.

So let’s look for that hand…

Find those who can help you here: International Community of EFT Therapists [ ICEEFT ]