The assessment of alexithymia in medical settings: implications for understanding and treating health problems

J Pers Assess. 2007 Dec;89(3):230-46. doi: 10.1080/00223890701629698.


The construct of alexithymia encompasses the characteristics of difficulty identifying feelings, difficulty describing feelings, externally oriented thinking, and a limited imaginal capacity. These characteristics are thought to reflect deficits in the cognitive processing and regulation of emotions and to contribute to the onset or maintenance of several medical and psychiatric disorders. In this article, we review recent methods for assessing alexithymia and examine how assessing alexithymia can inform clinical practice. Alexithymia is associated with heightened physiological arousal, the tendency to notice and report physical symptoms, and unhealthy compulsive behaviors. Alexithymic patients may respond poorly to psychological treatments, although perhaps not to cognitive-behavioral techniques, and it is unclear whether alexithymia can be improved through treatment. Interpretive problems regarding alexithymia include its overlap with other traits, whether it is secondary to illness or trauma, the possibility of subtypes, and low correlations among multiple measures. Nonetheless, we encourage the assessment of alexithymia in applied settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Affective Symptoms / diagnosis*
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology
  • Affective Symptoms / therapy*
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Humans
  • Medical History Taking / methods
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychotherapy, Group / methods