Have you ever noticed symptoms of your eczema flaring up when you’re feeling particularly anxious? Or migraines hit you extra hard during periods of extreme stress? Maybe your chest feels extra tight or your blood pressure skyrockets when a deadline is looming.
These may be examples of psychosomatic illnesses. It’s thought that particular physical symptoms like these – and even some diseases – are caused, or made worse, by mental forces like anxiety and stress.
What are psychosomatic illnesses?
Psychosomatic illnesses are conditions where the origins may lie in mental factors, but which manifest themselves primarily with physical symptoms. To diagnose a psychosomatic disorder, a medical doctor must assess that there is no other medical explanation for the symptoms.
Prevalence of psychosomatic illnesses
Extremely common, to some degree. Estimates indicate that as many as 90% of primary care visits are scheduled to address health problems that are, at least, partially influenced by stress. 
Symptoms of psychosomatic disorders
The particular symptoms of a psychosomatic disorder depends on what the disorder manifests itself as. For example, the onset of a severe migraine triggered by stress will differ from an asthma attack that’s possibly brought on by anxiety.
Types of psychosomatic illnesses
Common types of psychosomatic disorders include – but are not limited to – the following:
- Tachycardia (racing heart)
- Migraine headaches
- Seizure disorders
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorder
Causes of psychosomatic illnesses
The causes of these disorders can be psychological or a combination of psychological and physical. Whatever the case, medical doctors, whether general practitioners or specialists, are usually the first to be consulted. Through a combination of interviews and/or tests a diagnosis is usually made.
Therapy types for treating psychosomatic illnesses
Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy is the therapeutic modality that most closely aligns with the popular perception of “talk therapy.” Working with a therapist helps clients to identify issues, underlying causes for the illnesses, and next steps in treatment.
Psychoanalysis: Patients with extreme psychosomatic problems may have suffered from significant traumas in early childhood, potentially before they had developed words to define their experiences. Psychoanalysis is a tool which can help a patient translate the physical symptoms into words. Once this is done, other – less destructive – ways can be found to deal with these problems.
How to find a therapist for psychosomatic illnesses
Look for a therapist who has experience helping clients with similar anxiety or stress concerns
Since psychosomatic symptoms are so closely related to mental stressors like anxiety, seeing someone who has helped clients work through similar situations is crucial for your own journey to wellness.
Prioritize personal fit
While personality fit is a nuanced factor, it is critical to your success in therapy. Multiple studies have revealed the importance of this factor, often referred to as “therapeutic alliance.”
On your initial phone call with the therapist, ask yourself:
- Could I see myself forming a connection with this therapist?
- Does their approach suit my personality?
- Do I feel like I will be heard and respected by this therapist?
Additionally, consider these factors:
- Some therapists are more reflective and spend most of the session listening and drawing insights about your patterns and coping styles.
- Some therapists are more directive, establishing weekly agendas and assigning tasks to complete between sessions.
- Some utilize specific techniques or tools (exposure exercises, eye movements, tapping, breath work, guided imagery, art and music, etc.).
- Some use a combination of multiple approaches.
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.