Somatic Symptom Disorders

Individuals with somatic symptom disorders tend to have considerable difficulty with how they experience and appraise their bodily symptoms. The illness and the dysfunctional focus and behavior around the illness can assume a central role in the person’s life.

Somatic symptom disorders were originally thought of as “hysterical,” without legitimate medical causation, or as hypochondriasis. Though thinking has changed, negative judgments about unfounded illnesses can still be attached to individuals with these disorders. The boundary between medical and emotional problems can be further blurred. In some cases, an individual labeled with one of these illnesses may simply be experiencing a developing medical condition that has not yet been well defined. For all of these reasons, social workers need to take particular care in diagnosing somatic symptom disorders and in providing a fully biopsychosocial and multidisciplinary approach.

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In this Answer, you describe what that approach might look like for one client.

QUESTION:

To prepare: Imagine that Jennifer Brea, whose TEDTalk (TED Conferences, LLC, 2016) you watched, is referred to you for ongoing supportive therapy when her psychiatry consultant decides that she does not have a conversion disorder. Despite the psychiatrist’s opinion, her primary care physician ignores that consult and labels Jennifer as having a somatic symptom disorder anyway.

Submit a 5-minute recorded PowerPoint (5–7 slides) in which you address the following:

  • 1. Explain in a concise professional manner how you would conduct your first meeting with Jennifer. Identify specific steps you would take to understand her circumstance and needs.
  • 2. Explain how you would proceed with her medical team in terms of advocacy for her as a client believed to have this condition.
  • 3. Explain why you would need to take a biopsychosocial approach to her ongoing care.
  • 4. Explain what social, family, vocational, Internet, and medical supports you would explore to help with her longer-term stabilization.
  • 5. Analyze the controversy in diagnosing a mental disorder based on unexplained physical symptoms. Within your analysis, consider how power and privilege influence who provides the diagnoses and which groups are more likely to be diagnosed with certain disorders. Explain your thoughts on this debate.

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