Psychological mechanisms of medically unexplained symptoms: an integrative conceptual model

Psychol Bull. 2004 Sep;130(5):793-812. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.130.5.793.


Theories of medically unexplained illness based on the concepts of dissociation, conversion, and somatization are summarized. Evidence cited in support of these theories is described and the conceptual strengths and shortcomings of each approach are considered. It is argued that each of these approaches adds to the understanding of unexplained illness but that none is able to provide a comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon. An integrative conceptual model of unexplained illness based on cognitive psychological principles is then presented. This model attempts to combine existing theoretical approaches within a single explanatory framework, extending previous theory by explaining how compelling symptoms can exist in the absence of organic pathology. The clinical and empirical implications of the model are then considered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology*
  • Somatoform Disorders / therapy