Psychological Symptom Amplification: Are Psychological Symptoms Subject to “Somatization”-Like Processes?

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Many patients demonstrate amplified somatic symptom experiences that are felt by providers to cause excessive distress and functional impairment, and that can be diagnostically misleading. Terms attached to these presentations include somatization, medically unexplained symptoms, and, most recently, somatic symptom disorder. The analogous amplification of psychological symptoms has not been considered. Accordingly, this column makes a case for discussion and investigation of psychological symptom amplification (PSA), a process made possible by the medical legitimization of certain types of human suffering. As various forms of psychological suffering gain greater medical legitimacy, PSA becomes increasingly relevant. Circumstantial evidence suggests that unrecognized PSA may distort research findings and clinical efficacy in psychiatry. The largely symptom-based nature of psychiatric diagnosis makes PSA a challenging, but necessary, object of further scientific and clinical scrutiny.

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