Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) treatment
Somatic symptom disorder (SSD), formerly known as ‘somatoform disorder’, is a recognised mental health condition that causes one or more complaints in the body, which may or not have a clear physical or mental health source. These complaints may include unexplained pain, fatigue, or neurological problems.
If you are experiencing symptoms of SSD, then you can seek relief at one of Priory’s hospitals and wellbeing centres, where you will be able to receive individually tailored treatment. Specialist therapy sessions which have been specifically designed to assist in the treatment of SSD are used throughout our outpatient, day care or inpatient treatment programmes, and can help you to manage symptoms and drastically improve your quality of life.
The medically unexplained symptoms of SSD can occur over a prolonged period of time, in which extreme emotional distress is often experienced through physical symptoms – a phenomenon that is known as ‘somatisation’. You may have problems functioning in everyday life as a result of these perceived physical symptoms, although the main indicator that you have SSD is that your reaction to these symptoms will often be disproportionate.
This excessive reaction can lead to frequently seeking medical care for your complaints, believing that your symptoms may indicate a serious condition, even though many may already have been ruled out. Persistent preoccupation with your symptoms can leave you worrying about your health to the extent that it is hard to focus on other aspects of your life such as your relationships and career.
Treatment for SSD at Priory
Priory has been helping to treat people with SSD for many years. We know that everyone's situation is different, which is why we ensure that you will receive a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific circumstances and individual needs.
The type and length of SSD treatment is dependent on your circumstances and the severity of your condition. Once you have discussed options for treatment, fully understood how SSD is impacting on your life, and worked out what you want your treatment goals to be, you can be treated as an outpatient, which means that you will visit Priory for hourly sessions with your consultant, psychologist or therapist at a convenient time.
If your condition is deemed particularly severe, a structured treatment approach, which can include staying at one of our Priory hospitals for the duration of your treatment, may be recommended. Inpatient treatment allows you to take part in a psychological group programme as well as regular sessions with your consultant, while day care packages are also available.
In terms of the specific mental health treatment options that are used to treat SSD, psychotherapy, also known as ‘talk therapy’, is believed to be particularly helpful when trying to improve daily functioning and the associated symptoms of SSD.
Evidence-based talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can indirectly help to improve the physical symptoms experienced during SSD, due to the link between psychological distress and bodily complaints. In addition, CBT can be helpful if you are struggling with a co-occurring mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.
Psychotherapeutic treatment for SSD
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT is a commonly used talking therapy for SSD, which is an action-based therapeutic method that helps you to understand the condition further, as well as the reasons behind why you might be experiencing the emotional and physical problems that are associated with it.
Our experienced therapists will help you to learn techniques that are geared towards more positive thought processes in relation to your condition, which may include:
- Adapting your extreme beliefs about your health and physical symptoms
- Learning how to reduce stress
- Coping techniques for when you experience physical symptoms
- Reducing preoccupation with your symptoms
- Improving your ability to function daily in various situations
- Addressing stress, anxiety and depression which may be contributing to symptoms of SSD
Mindfulness is accepted as an additional treatment to CBT for reducing the symptoms of SSD. This involves elements of the CBT, with the addition of current psychological methods that can teach you to be present in the moment, as opposed to dwelling on what may or may not happen in the future.
Using breathing and meditation techniques, you will begin to learn how to clear your mind of negative thoughts which may be contributing to the preoccupation and health anxiety that is experienced if you have SSD, as well as associated symptoms of depression.
Medication for SSD
Medication can be used for SSD when this is used alongside therapy, and can be particularly effective if you are experiencing symptoms of health anxiety, pain or depression that are commonly associated with the condition.
It is important to remember that it can take several weeks to notice improvement in symptoms when taking medication such as antidepressants.
This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Leon Rozewicz (MBBS, FRCPsych, MRCGP, MRCPsych) in August 2020.
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