Neuroticism and maladaptive coping in patients with functional somatic syndromes

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Objectives. The cognitive-behavioural model of functional somatic syndromes (FSS) proposes a multifactorial aetiology consisting of predisposing, precipitating and perpetuating factors. In this study, we sought to investigate three questions that can be drawn from this model: (1) Do patients with FSS show high levels of neuroticism? (2) Does neuroticism affect physical health and social functioning, either directly or indirectly through maladaptive coping? (3) Does more adaptive coping mediate the effect of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) on outcome?

Design. Secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) using additional data.

Method. We used yet unpublished data on neuroticism (measured with Temperament and Character Inventory, Revised) and coping (measured with Coping Strategies Questionnaire) together with already reported outcomes (physical health and social functioning measured with SF-36) from an RCT comparing group CBT with enhanced usual care in 120 patients with a range of FSS. Neuroticism was measured at referral, while coping and outcomes were measured at referral, baseline, 4 and 16 months after randomization. Our hypotheses were explored through a series of cross-sectional (linear
regression and structural equation models) and longitudinal (mediation) analyses.

Results. Patients with FSS showed higher levels of neuroticism than two healthy
comparison groups. At referral, symptom catastrophizing partly mediated the negative association between neuroticism and outcome. Reduction in symptom catastrophizing during group CBT partially mediated its long-term effect.

Conclusions. The results give support to a generic cognitive-behavioural model of FSS. Targeting symptom catastrophizing may be an essential component in CBT for patients with FSS, regardless of their specific diagnosis.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Volume21
Pages (from-to)917-936
Number of pages20
ISSN1359-107X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2016

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