Somatization is a tendency to experience and communicate psychological distress in the form of somatic symptoms and to seek medical help for them. More commonly expressed, it is the generation of physical symptoms of a psychiatric condition such as anxiety. The term somatization was introduced by Wilhelm Stekel in 1924.
Somatization is a worldwide phenomenon. A somatization spectrum can be identified, up to and including at one extreme somatization disorder.
Related psychological conditions
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has classified somatoform disorders in the DSM-IV and the World Health Organization (WHO) have classified these in the ICD-10. Both classification systems use similar criteria. Most current practitioners will use one over the other, though in cases of borderline diagnoses, both systems may be referred to. In spite of extensive research over the last 20 years, researchers are still perplexed by somatoform disorders.
Sigmund Freud's famous case study of Anna O. featured a woman who suffered from numerous physical symptoms, which Freud believed were the result of repressed grief over her father's illness, although treatment did not resolve her symptoms and later research is skeptical of Freud's diagnosis.
While it is normal for stresses and strains in a child's life to be expressed in bodily pains/upsets, there is evidence that children in families where bodily complaints receive special attention are significantly more likely to use somatization as a defence in later life.
Virginia Woolf's mental and emotional difficulties were often expressed directly in physical symptoms: "Such 'sensations' spread over my spine & head...the horror – physically like a painful wave about the heart".
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- Adriana Feder, M.D. Somatization
- R. L. Woolfolk/L. A. Allen, Treating Somatization (2006) p. 5
- P. S. Sutker/H. E. Adams, Comprehensive Handbook of Psychopathology (2001) p. 217
- Woolfolk/Allen, pp. 14–5
- Smith RC, Gardiner JC, Lyles JS, et al. (2005). "Exploration of DSM-IV criteria in primary care patients with medically unexplained symptoms". Psychosomatic Medicine. 67 (1): 123–9. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000149279.10978.3e. PMC 1894627. PMID 15673634.
- Antai-Otong, D, (2008), Psychiatric Nursing Biological and Beahvioural Concepts, 2nd ed, Delmar, New York
- P. S. Sutker/H. E. Adams, Comprehensive Handbook of Psychopathology (2001) p. 216
- Gupta, Deepti; Perez Edgar (Jan 2012). "The role of temperament in somatic complaints among young female adults". Journal of Health Psychology. 17 (1): 26–35. doi:10.1177/1359105311405351.
- D. W. Winnicott, The Child, the Family, and the Outside World (1973) p. 129
- Woolfolk/Allen, p. 217
- Woolfolk, pp. 41–3
- Quoted in Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (1996) p. 187