The biopsychosocial model is lost in translation: from misrepresentation to an enactive modernization

Physiother Theory Pract. 2023 Nov 2;39(11):2273-2288. doi: 10.1080/09593985.2022.2080130. Epub 2022 May 28.


Introduction: There are increasing recommendations to use the biopsychosocial model (BPSM) as a guide for musculoskeletal research and practice. However, there is a wide range of interpretations and applications of the model, many of which deviate from George Engel's original BPSM. These deviations have led to confusion and suboptimal patient care.

Objectives: 1) To review Engel's original work; 2) outline prominent BPSM interpretations and misapplications in research and practice; and 3) present an "enactive" modernization of the BPSM.

Methods: Critical narrative review in the context of musculoskeletal pain.

Results: The BPSM has been biomedicalized, fragmented, and used in reductionist ways. Two useful versions of the BPSM have been running mostly in parallel, rarely converging. The first version is a "humanistic" interpretation based on person- and relationship-centredness. The second version is a "causation" interpretation focused on multifactorial contributors to illness and health. Recently, authors have argued that a modern enactive approach to the BPSM can accommodate both interpretations.

Conclusion: The BPSM is often conceptualized in narrow ways and only partially implemented in clinical care. We outline how an "enactive-BPS approach" to musculoskeletal care aligns with Engel's vision yet addresses theoretical limitations and may mitigate misapplications.

Keywords: Biopsychosocial; George Engel; enactivism; humanism; person-centered care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Models, Biopsychosocial*
  • Musculoskeletal Pain