Tag Archives: pain

Comparing PTSD and Somatization Disorder

Comparing PTSD and Somatization Disorder shows that there are some similarities in the symptoms but for the most part they are different.  Somatization Disorder has a lot more physical symptoms while PTSD has more symptoms leaning toward emotional.  The symptoms the two disorders have in common are headaches and stomachaches.  In both cases symptoms can be so severe and last so long that it completely disrupts the person’s life.

Do you have medically unexplained physical, or somatic, symptoms?

Somatization disorder can cause a person towards an emotional reaction such as depression or even suicide because they feel so much pain and can never get a diagnosis for it.  The symptoms often lead to substance abuse.  Thereby leaving them to feel hopeless, as if they will never get the help they need.  Somatization disorder has a wide range of physical symptoms.  A person with this disorder will report many different symptoms over a period of time with no real medical explanation.  These symptoms are often pain throughout the body, but not usually all at the same time.  Pain in the form of headaches, stomach ache, joint or muscle pain.  It could also be internal, such as vomiting, or it could come about as a sexual or menstrual problem.  Neurological symptoms are also common, often occurring as problems with balance or vision and even paralysis.

Generally for a patient to be diagnosed they will have experienced a minimum of eight symptoms.  There will be a minimum number of symptoms from a given category.  An example of this is that a patient will experience four or more symptoms from the pain category, two or more symptoms from the gastrointestinal category, one or more symptoms from the sexual symptoms category, and one or more symptoms from the pseudoneurological symptoms.  When a person is showing signs of these symptoms they will be unexplainable and a medical diagnosis is not usually possible.  Generally the person will explain the pain they are having in a fashion that makes it seem as if they are in more pain than you think they should be in, as if they are over exaggerating the symptoms.

Somatization Disorder lasts for a very long time which is one thing this disorder has in common with PTSD.  PTSD symptoms can last anywhere from months to years.   Most PTSD symptoms are different from Somatization Disorder because they come from more of a psychological background than a physical background.  PTSD symptoms are generally geared more towards an emotional aspect, some examples are worry over dying, acting younger than the chronological age, having an impaired memory or obsessiveness.  It seems that PTSD actually transforms a person’s behavior instead of changing them physically.  This is because when traumatic experiences occur, the feelings they experience, such as shock, nervousness or fear continue on for a length of time and gradually get stronger.  The stronger they get the less of a normal life the person is able to lead.

These increased symptoms can include nightmares or night terrors, hypervigilance, panic attacks, hypersensitivity, low self-esteem and shattered self-confidence or a physical or mental paralysis.  There are three categories often used by clinicians in order to type or group people who are diagnosed with PTSD.  The categories used are re-living, avoiding, and increased arousal.  The people in the re-living group are people who suffer from living through the trauma they have been through over and over again.  This can happen through a flashback or a hallucination or just by being reminded even in small ways.  The people in the avoiding group tend to try to stay away from people, places or things that can remind them of the event.  Unfortunately the person can start to isolate themselves and eventually can turn completely inward from detachment.  The people in the increased arousal group lean towards either having difficulty showing their emotions or on the other end of the spectrum showing overly exaggerated emotions.  This group is also the group who has some physical symptoms such as higher blood pressure, muscle tension and nausea.

In conclusion, it has become very apparent to me that while there are some similarities between PTSD and Somatization Disorder, there are a lot more differences.  It has also become very apparent to me that the people who suffer from these disorders are dealing with a lot of pain, and whether it is physical or emotional, this pain can cause the person suffering from it to shut down and disable them from enjoying the life they were meant to lead.


Netherton, S.D., Holmes, D., Walker, C.E. (1999). Child and Adolescent Psychological Disorders.   New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Blaney, P.H., Millon, T. (2009). Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology.

New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

(2009, February 9). Anxiety & Panic Disorders Guide. WebMD.com. Retrieved October 5, 2009, from http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/post-traumatic-stress-disorder

(Retrieved 2009, October 5). Somatization Disorder. Intelihealth.com.  http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtPrint/W/8271/25759/187986.html?d=dmtHealthAZ&hide=t&k=base

(Retrieved 2009, October 5). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. AACAP.org


(Retrieved 2009, October 5). Somatization Disorder. PsychNet-UK.


Kinchin, D. (2005). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder The Invisible Injury.

Didcot, Oxfordshire OX11 9YS, UK.  Retrieved October 5, 2009, from http://www.successunlimited.co.uk/books/ptsympt.htm


What does it mean to be a culturally responsive therapist?

Being culturally responsible means being able to identify bias in yourself and others. It means being sensitive to systems that contribute to the positive and negative reinforcement of that bias. Being culturally responsive entails being competent enough to guide clients through the process of negotiating the similarities and differences between cultures – and recognizing the effects that those boundaries have on the lives of the individuals we serve. If we come from a privileged background, it means we are sensitive to, and have a raised consciousness about, the lines and differences related to that socio-economic position. It means confronting our own personal fears, challenging our own ignorance, engaging in exploration of issues that cause us pain, and being able to identify both interpersonal and intrapersonal resources that can be leveraged in the service of growth. It means having an implicit understanding that “if there is smoke, there is probably fire.” It also means that we don’t assume the reason why the fire burns. It is the process of acknowledging that there is no “one size fits all” solution – and that we should create a new therapy for every individual client. And finally, it means continuing to grow through experience – consultation in particular.

Comparing Factitious Disorders with Malingering

The manifestations of factitious disorder are limited only by human motivation and creativity.  To illustrate this position I would guide the reader to a case study conducted in which a 19 year old female presented to an otolaryngology clinic complaining of bleeding from the mouth, nose, ears, and eyes.  Ultimately Yanik, San, and Alatas (2004) determined that she was smearing her menstrual blood on her face to produce the effect.  Why would someone do such a thing?  Before we can begin to differentiate between factitious disorders and clinical presentations, it is important that we understand the intent of patients of factitious disorder (FD).

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In factitious disorder (FD), patients either intentionally produce or feign signs of medical or psychological disorders, or they misrepresent their histories. The motivation to assume the patient role, rather than to obtain an external reward, distinguishes FD from malingering.  Malingering and FD both differ from somatoform disorders (e.g., somatization disorder, hypochondriasis, persistent somatoform pain disorder) and dissociative/conversion disorders in that the former are marked by active dissimulation, whereas the latter are prompted by unconscious conflicts and symptoms that are not intentionally produced. (Ehrlich, Pfeiffer, Salbach, Lenz, & Lehmkuhl, 2008, p. 392)

The clinical assessment of someone suspected of suffering from a factitious disorder (like most disorders) begins with a careful medical history and comprehensive mental status examination.  Our first consideration is to eliminate investigate the possibilities that the illness is not feigned, but is in fact real.  Typically, the FD case is built through a process of exclusion of actual physical or mental illness, as well as confirmation of intent to assume the “sick role” (thereby differentiating it from malingering).  We as clinicians should carefully document inconsistencies; including inconsistencies among the patient’s account of his or her symptoms (over time), inconsistencies between what we empirically observe and self-reports, and inconsistencies between what is self-reported and what represent typical signs and symptoms of the feigned illness.  (Malone & Lange, 2007)

Possible warning signs of factitious disorders include:

1)      Dramatic but inconsistent medical history

2)      Unclear symptoms that are not controllable and that become more severe or change once treatment has begun

3)      Predictable relapses following improvement in the condition

4)      Extensive knowledge of hospitals and/or medical terminology, as well as the textbook descriptions of illness

5)      Presence of many surgical scars

6)      Appearance of new or additional symptoms following negative test results

7)      Presence of symptoms only when the patient is with others or being observed

8)      Willingness or eagerness to have medical tests, operations, or other procedures

9)      History of seeking treatment at many hospitals, clinics, and doctors offices, possibly even in different cities

10)  Reluctance by the patient to allow health care professionals to meet with or talk to family members, friends, and prior doctors (WebMD, n.d.)

Malingering is similar to FD, except that there is an existence of an external reward.  Personal gain is always the motivation; examples might include active duty military personnel seeking medical discharge, or a person attempting to get paid (short-term or long-term) for a nonexistent disability.

Once a legitimate medical condition is eliminated as a possible cause, we are left to attempt to distinguish intent of the client.  Patterns of speech can also be used to detect a potential malingerer.  “Malingerers often sound rehearsed” and, when “led away from these prepared scripts with specific questions,” they tend to “make over-generalized and vague statements.”  When most people lie, they tend to make more negative statements, while using fewer contractions in their speech (e.g., “I do not” instead of the more conversational “I don’t”).  (Malone & Lange, 2007)  The Stroop test has also been found to be effective for detection of malingering of cognitive deficit.  (Osimani, Alon, Berger, & Abarbanel, 1997)

In any event, once the malingering attempt is identified, it must be confronted.  “Approaching the deception as a maladaptive attempt on the patient’s part to resolve a problem or conflict, and drawing analogies to other clinical situations involving more primitive defenses, allows us to use our familiar clinical skills of diagnosis and treatment to resolve our own and the patient’s conflicts in what is often an uncomfortable encounter for both.”  (Malone & Lange, 2007, expression SUMMARY)  Although this will likely be one of the most uncomfortable conversations we can have as clinicians, it can be professionally dealt with and subsequently resolved.

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Ehrlich, S., Pfeiffer, E., Salbach, H., Lenz, K., & Lehmkuhl, U. (2008, Sep/Oct). Factitious disorder in children and adolescents: A retrospective study. Psychosomatics, 49(5), 392-399. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1557976921&sid=3&Fmt=4&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Harrison, A. G. (2009, Nov). Clinical assessment of malingering and deception, 3rd edition. Canadian Psychology, 50(4), 294-296. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=2003029091&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Malone, R. D., & Lange, C. L. (2007, Spring). A clinical approach to the malingering patient. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 35(1), 13-22. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1256972241&sid=3&Fmt=3&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Osimani, A., Alon, A., Berger, A., & Abarbanel, J. M. (1997, Jun). Use of the Stroop phenomenon as a diagnostic tool for malingering. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 62(6), 617-622. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?index=62&did=13146114&SrchMode=1&sid=2&Fmt=6&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1272133836&clientId=4683

WebMD. (n.d.). Factitious disorders. Retrieved April 24, 2010, from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/factitious-disorders?page=2

Yanik, M., San, I., & Alatas, N. (2004). A case of factitious disorder involving menstrual blood smeared on the face. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 34(1), 97-102. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?index=4&did=692035021&SrchMode=2&sid=3&Fmt=10&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1272135912&clientId=4683