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Explanations for functional somatic symptoms across European treatment settings: A mixed methods study

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Engaging patients in treatment for functional somatic symptoms (FSS) relies on a shared understanding of the mechanisms underlying the complaints. Despite this, little is known about the explanatory models used in daily clinical practice. We aim to examine the approaches healthcare professionals use to explain FSS across European healthcare settings.

This is an exploratory mixed methods study, combining sequential qualitative and quantitative analyses. 3 types of data were collected: a survey of Health-Care Professionals (HCPs) with special interest in FSS from 16 European countries (n = 186), Patient Education Material collected systematically from survey respondents (n = 72) and semi-structured Interviews with HCPs (n = 14). Survey results are summarized descriptively. Qualitative data was thematically coded following template analysis methods. Findings were integrated through mixed-methods triangulation.

Five main explanatory models for FSS that are used across treatment settings and diagnostic constructs were represented in the data. The ‘Multisystem Stress’ Approach explains FSS through physiological stress responses within a bio-psycho-social paradigm. ‘Sensitized Alarm’ and ‘Malfunctioning software’ are both approaches derived from the neurosciences. Explanations related to ‘Embodied Experience’ are often used within integrated psychosomatic therapies. In the person-centred ‘Symptoms’ approach, HCPs aim for co-constructed, individualized explanations. These approaches, which rely on different models of mind-body-environment are complementary and are used flexibly by skilled HCPs.

Taken together the explanatory models described might form the basis of a curriculum of medical explanation with the potential to equip clinicians to form more collaborative relationships with patients across healthcare.
TidsskriftJournal of Psychosomatic Research
StatusUdgivet - mar. 2023

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