Psychosomatic medicine in the 21st century: understanding mechanisms and barriers to utilization

Adv Psychosom Med. 2015;34:1-9. doi: 10.1159/000369043. Epub 2015 Mar 30.

Abstract

The psychosomatic approach arose in antiquity as mankind looked for explanations for illness and death. With the rise of modern medicine, the links between emotions and medical conditions, such as cardiac disease and diabetes, were described by astute clinical observers, but the mechanisms for these conditions were based on correlation from observations rather than on experimental design. Psychoanalytic theory was often utilized to explain many common diseases. For example, peptic ulcer disease was blamed upon anger and stress, but scientific methodology discovered Helicobacter pylori to be the significant causal factor of this disease and resulted in the development of more effective treatments. Nevertheless emotional factors are still linked to disease states and morbidity; for example, depression is a risk factor for mortality following myocardial infarction. Advances in neuroscience demonstrate that the reduction of telomere length by anxiety and stress leads to more rapid aging and potential disease vulnerability. Thus, neuroscientific probes may allow for the elucidation of psychosomatic mechanisms. Sadly, clinical barriers, in terms of time pressure upon physicians and the current separation of mental health services from primary care settings, continue the dualistic treatment of many conditions where psychological factors are important. It is not clear whether a mandate for the integration of behavioral health into primary care will remedy this partition and finally maximize a psychosomatic approach to medical care.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Psychosomatic Medicine / history
  • Psychosomatic Medicine / standards*
  • Psychosomatic Medicine / trends