Psychosomatic disorders involve both the body and the mind -- the idea that our thinking affects our body and can make it ill. So the physical symptoms experienced are related to psychological factors rather than a medical cause. The symptoms experienced are real they are not "in the mind" only that they are not a manifestation of a physical disease.
How can the mind trigger physical disease?
Most people experience physical effects when troubled by something on their minds. For example, if we are afraid, our heart rate increases and we might break out into a sweat or feel sick. When we are worried about something, we might develop a bad stomach, dry mouth and headaches. All this is triggered by the nervous system which increases your heart rate and releases adrenaline into the bloodstream.
How is a psychosomatic disorder diagnosed?
The diagnosis of a psychosomatic disorder is usually arrived at following an examination and appropriate investigations without the findings of a disease process.
The spectrum of psychosomatic disorders is broad but common presentations include health anxiety and hypochondrias. Typically the sufferer can become preoccupied with minor symptoms and become fearful that his symptoms represent an underlying serious disease. An example of this might be a headache which is interpreted as being a sign of a brain tumor. More complicated presentations can be those of multiple medically unexplained symptoms.
How are psychosomatic disorders treated?
The physical symptoms are taken seriously with the possibility of an underlying illness kept in mind but at the same time unwarranted investigations kept to the minimum. This is important as too many investigations apart from being expensive can sometimes result in harm. The task then is to simultaneously explore psychological and social factors that may be contributing to the presentation and embark on a process to address these matters. So, for example, talking treatments to ease stress, unresolved conflicts, anxiety or depression, may be included if they are thought to be contributing to the physical presentation.
Medications can be prescribed with benefit to treat associated anxiety and or secondary depression in conjunction with talking therapies.
Counseling & Therapy.
Counseling and psychotherapy is the mainstay of treatments for this condition. The treatment can often take the form of psycho-education with a view to help the sufferer reformulate their understanding of the illness and help resolve psychosocial factors contributing to the causation with resultant reduction in emotional distress and recovery.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can be particularly helpful for psychosomatic disorders, helping the person to change negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to the physical manifestations.
Group therapy can be helpful in providing a forum for patients to discuss their concerns in a safe setting, receiving feedback from the group and the therapist to help develop a greater understanding of the problem and develop coping skills.
Sometimes psychosomatic disorders can be so severe that patients benefit from regular, intense treatment in a neutral environment. Here patients have access to daily group treatment and with additional individual therapy together with medications to achieve recovery.