Harvard Mental Health Letter

Treating somatoform disorders

Most research supports cognitive behavioral therapy, but other options exist.

About one-third to one-half of all outpatient medical visits worldwide are for symptoms such as pain or fatigue that have no clear physical cause. Some of those seeking help for such unexplained symptoms meet the criteria for somatoform disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).

Earlier in the history of psychiatry, the prevailing view was that such disorders (often lumped together as hysteria) were a sign of unresolved emotional conflicts or earlier traumas. In the early 1920s, the term "somatization" entered the vernacular, defined as the conversion of emotional states into physical symptoms.

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