Somatisation is the process of converting psychological symptoms into physical ones.

What is Somatisation?

Sometimes psychological symptoms can be so distressing that a person cannot face them. When psychological symptoms become overwhelming, some people tend to interpret the symptoms as physical illnesses. The physical illness is not fake; instead, the psychological distress has been converted to a physical symptom, often as a subconscious means of drawing attention to a problem requiring treatment.

Most people experience somatisation at some point in their lives. Throwing up from anxiety, having a headache due to stress, feeling shaky because of grief, or getting sick after a trauma are all examples.

How Does Somatisation Occur?

Somatisation is distinct from faking an illness to get attention or claiming to have a headache when the real problem is stress. To the person experiencing somatisation, the symptoms are real. There are a number of factors that may increase the likelihood of somatisation. Some people, for example, may interpret psychological distress as pain. An anxious person might feel a pit in her stomach and begin to focus on the pain, interpreting the physical anxiety as a physical illness.

Stress can also weaken the immune system, and the release of cortisol and other stress-related hormones can cause physical symptoms. Although it might seem that mental and physical health are completely different, there is not such a clear distinction between the mind and the body, and many psychological states have physical symptoms; in some people, these states may be ignored and the physical symptoms may become more distressing.

Therapy for Somatisation

Many people who experience somatisation first seek the help of a GP due to the unwanted physical symptoms they are experiencing. If a GP rules out any underlying physical cause of a person's physical symptoms, they may refer the person to a trained therapist or counsellor who can better address and treat the underlying psychological issues, and thus minimize or alleviate distressing physical symptoms.


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  2.  Somatisation disorder. (n.d.). U.S National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from