Somatoform disorders are a cluster of psychological conditions where a person experiences pain and physical symptoms that cannot be explained by a medical condition. A person with one of these conditions often displays a significant amount of anxiety about their unexplained symptoms. In many cases, a person with a somatoform disorder will disregard the possibility that psychological issues play a part in their condition.
Somatoform disorder treatment seeks to enhance a person’s daily functioning by reducing stress, mitigating physical symptoms and improving overall functioning. Somatoform disorder treatment options include various forms of psychotherapy and pharmacological interventions when co-occurring conditions like depression or anxiety are present.
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Pharmacological interventions alone are not effective in treating somatoform disorders. However, medication for a somatoform disorder may be helpful if concurrent depression or anxiety disorders are present. Pharmacological interventions are most helpful when paired with therapy.
Several types of antidepressants are generally prescribed to people with somatoform disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions that can exacerbate symptoms. Antidepressant medications work indirectly on somatoform disorder by easing symptoms of anxiety and depression that can increase concern and worry about physical symptoms.
Psychodynamic therapy can be used in conjunction with other treatments or by itself. Psychodynamic interventions help an individual gain insight into emotional issues they might not be aware of. Psychodynamic therapy may help a person better understand the underlying causes of pain and physical distress they experience.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for somatoform disorders has been shown to effective in some cases, though additional research is needed to confirm these claims. CBT helps individuals reduce fixation on their health, pain and physical symptoms. This treatment method also teaches stress reduction techniques and coping skills to manage physical symptoms and emotional reactions.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a type of psychotherapy used to process trauma. During EMDR therapy, the individual recalls upsetting images while a therapist stimulates eye movements. EMDR therapy may be useful in reducing somatoform disorder symptoms, especially when they are related to a traumatic event.
Alternative Therapies for Somatoform Disorders
Although the symptoms of somatoform disorders are responsive to psychotherapy, alternative therapies can also help alleviate pain and physical symptoms. Natural treatment for somatoform disorder can include stress management and relaxation techniques, regular physical activity, socialization opportunities and avoiding substance use. Other common alternative therapies for somatoform disorders include hypnotherapy, relaxation techniques and somatic experiencing.
- Hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy is used therapeutically to provide a person with insight into their unconscious mind and, as such, may be helpful in the treatment of somatoform disorders. This therapy can be used alongside other forms of treatment or on its own.
- Relaxation Techniques. Relaxation techniques, meditation and mindfulness are effective at reducing anxiety and worry as it pertains to pain and physical symptoms of somatoform disorders. Relaxation and deep breathing can help lower stress and quiet racing thoughts. Individuals who participate in these practices may be better equipped to accept feelings related to their somatic symptoms and understand that their symptoms don’t need to impact mental well-being negatively.
- Somatic Experiencing. Somatic experiencing is a type of alternative therapy treatment that seeks to relieve symptoms related to mental and physical health issues, like trauma. Somatic experiencing therapy helps people perceive sensations in the body and use self-regulation techniques to release physical tension.
Treating Somatoform Disorders and Co-Occurring Conditions
Somatoform disorders frequently co-occur with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Somatoform disorders can also co-occur with substance abuse, as individuals may attempt to cope with a lack of explanation for their symptoms using drugs or alcohol. Co-occurring disorders may develop as a result of a somatoform disorder, or they can cause a somatoform disorder.
To achieve successful outcomes, somatoform disorder treatment must address somatoform disorder and co-occurring disorders simultaneously. Treatment should focus on isolating symptoms from each condition and minimizing interactions between them that could potentially impede progress.
If you believe that you might have a co-occurring substance abuse disorder and somatoform disorder, help is available. Contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative who will can help you find the right type of treatment for you.
Behavior.net. “Applying EMDR to somatic disorders.” November 16, 1997. Accessed April 2, 2019.
Health.harvard.edu. “Treating Somatoform Disorders.” November 2009. Accessed April 2, 2019.
NCBI. “Cognitive behavioral therapy for somatoform disorders.” September 2010. Accessed April 2, 2019.
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