The term psychosomatic perfectly captures the interplay of psyche (mind) and soma (body), which characterizes these disorders. A psychosomatic disorder is a real, physical disorder, but one that has, at least in part, a psychological cause. As we saw in Chapter 11 (“Stress and Health Psychology”), stress, anxiety, and prolonged emotional arousal alter body chem- istry, the functioning of bodily organs, and the body’s immune system (which is vital in fighting infections). Thus, modern medicine leans toward the idea that all physical ailments are to some extent “psychosomatic.”
Psychosomatic disorders involve genuine physical illnesses. In contrast, people suffering from somatoform disorders believe that they are physically ill and describe symptoms that sound like physical illnesses, but medical examinations reveal no organic problems. Never- theless, the symptoms are real to them and are not under voluntary control (American Psychological Association, 2000). For example, in one kind of somatoform disorder, somatization disorder, the person experiences vague, recurring physical symptoms for which medical attention has been sought repeatedly but no organic cause found. Common complaints are back pain, dizziness, abdominal pain, and sometimes anxiety and depression.
One of the more dramatic forms of somatoform disorder involves complaints of paralysis, blindness, deafness, seizures, loss of feeling, or pregnancy. In these conversion
Distinguish between psychosomatic
and somatoform disorders, somatization disorder, conversion disorders, hypochondriasis, and body dysmorphic disorder. Explain what is meant by the statement that “all physical ailments are to some extent psychosomatic.”
psychosomatic disorder A disorder in which there is real physical illness that is largely caused by psychological factors such as stress and anxiety.