Somatization Disorder: Causes And Management


In the previous article, Somatization Disorders: Understanding Psychosomatic Illness, we examined the four types of somatization illnesses. In this article, the etiologic factors and overview of the management will be tackled.




Etiologic Factors

“Somatization disorder, characterized by a history of at least eight unexplained symptoms in four or more bodily systems, represents the extreme end of a continuum of somatoform severity.” –Richard J. Brown, Ph.D., Clin.Psy.D

Genetics and heredity play a crucial role in most mental illnesses. Research presented that ten to 20% of somatization disorders are common in families with a first-degree family member exhibiting the same condition. Also, children who are having complaints of functional abdominal discomfort, and changes in mood such as anxiety and depression, their mothers may have a history of chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and somatoform disorder in their lifetime.

The role of neurotransmitters was also attributed to the causation process stating that its sustained release in conjunction with the neuroendocrine hormones, when faced with extremely stressful situations, can deplete some areas in the brain that enable adaptations and coping behaviors.

“Your environment, both your social and natural surroundings, can greatly impact how you feel.” Marjie L. Roddick, MA, NCC, LMHC said. Therefore, A violent family environment resulting in abusive behaviors, be it physical, verbal, or sexual, can lead to somatization symptoms in children. Traumatic experiences can shatter the mind’s capacity to cope effectively, and the only thing that it can do is to transfer the mental anguish into physical complaints.





This can be very frustrating as the condition tends to be more psychological rather than medical. Sometimes, the caregiver resounds annoyance and weariness on the constant complaints of bodily pain, concern for well-being, and even verbalizing imminent death.

In the beginning, the medical doctor will explore and investigate the source of the physical complaints. Remember that these symptoms are real to the persons no matter what explanations you give them that “it’s all in mind.” For a person with pain disorder, a referral to a specialty pain clinic is the best alternative. Introduction to non-pharmacologic and alternative treatments may contribute to the alleviation of pain symptoms.

Insight-oriented psychotherapy is recommended for persons with illness anxiety disorder. The aim of this therapy to help the person understand the cause and relationship of their feelings to the physical symptoms that they have every time they encounter stress. The person is encouraged not to undergo several medical tests that will only result in more tests if they are not satisfied with a reasonable result. They will also be instructed with positive coping mechanisms to divert attention away from their body functioning to some more constructive activities. Anxiolytic medications like Xanax and Valium are prescribed to control and manage the severe effects of stress, but should not be taken in the long run because of its addictive tendencies.

“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act.” says Catherine Cleveland M.S., LMHC-P. These persons need emotional support but never say that their symptoms are unreal and controllable. This is a futile attempt to take knowing that for them their symptoms are real as a result of their emotional distress. Acknowledge the manifestation only to the point that you are aware of their difficulties. If the person continues to present a new complaint, this should be corrected instantly. Encourage to keep a journal of situations, events of stresses and the occurrence of symptoms and utilize this information to identify the relationship between anxiety and physical complaints. Introduce the person to several activities that will divert his/her attention from the stressful situation.