Deutsch: Somatoform / Español: Somatoforme / Português: Somatoforme / Français: Somatoforme / Italiano: Somatoforme

Somatoform disorders marked by unpleasant or painful physical symptoms that have no apparent organic cause and that are often not physiologically possible, suggesting that psychological factors are involved.

In psychology, somatoform refers to a category of disorders characterized by physical symptoms that suggest a medical condition but are not fully explained by a general medical condition, the direct effects of a substance, or another mental disorder. The term is associated with the expression of psychological distress through physical means.


Somatoform disorders encompass a range of conditions where individuals experience debilitating physical symptoms, including pain and fatigue, which cause significant distress and impairment in functioning. These symptoms are genuine to the individual and are not intentionally produced or feigned, although they have no identifiable medical cause.

The diagnostic criteria and understanding of somatoform disorders have evolved over time. In the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition), somatoform disorders included several specific conditions, such as somatization disorder, hypochondriasis, and pain disorder. However, in the DSM-5, these categories were reorganized and renamed to better reflect their psychological basis. They are now generally referred to under the umbrella of Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders, which include conditions like Somatic Symptom Disorder, Illness Anxiety Disorder (previously hypochondriasis), and Conversion Disorder (Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder).

Application Areas

Somatoform disorders are significant in various fields of psychology, including:

  • Clinical psychology: Diagnosing and treating somatoform disorders through psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help manage symptoms and address the underlying psychological issues.
  • Health psychology: Understanding the interaction between mental and physical health and developing interventions to improve outcomes for patients with medically unexplained symptoms.

Well-Known Examples

Historical and well-known concepts related to somatoform disorders include:

  • Conversion disorder: Involves neurological symptoms like paralysis, blindness, or fits without a neurological explanation, traditionally linked to psychological factors.
  • Hypochondriasis: Now termed Illness Anxiety Disorder, where the person is preoccupied with having or acquiring a serious illness, despite medical reassurance.

Treatment and Risks

Treatment for somatoform disorders often involves a multidisciplinary approach, including psychological therapy and, when appropriate, medical intervention to manage symptoms. Psychotherapy, particularly CBT, is effective in helping patients alter their perceptions of their health and improve coping strategies.

Not treating somatoform disorders can lead to significant personal distress, high healthcare utilization with unnecessary medical procedures, and chronic disability. A comprehensive treatment plan that addresses both the psychological and physical aspects of these disorders is essential for effective management.

Similar Terms

Related psychological terms include:

  • Psychosomatic disorder: Often used interchangeably with somatoform, though psychosomatic more broadly refers to the interaction between mind and body in producing or exacerbating physical symptoms.
  • Factitious disorder: Involves consciously fabricating or exaggerating symptoms of illness but, unlike somatoform disorders, for psychological reasons such as a desire to be seen as ill or to gain sympathy.

Articles with 'Somatoform' in the title

  • Somatoform disorders: Somatoform disorders refer to a variety of conditions in which a person's psychological conflicts become translated into physical problems or complaints


In psychology, somatoform disorders represent a complex interaction between the mind and body, where psychological distress is manifested through physical symptoms without a medical explanation. Understanding and treating these disorders require a careful and compassionate approach that addresses the psychological roots of the physical symptoms.