Most of us know people who cannot wait to regale us with their latest physical problems; even an innocent „How are you?“ brings a long list of complaints in response. People who consistently report physical problems, have a preoccupation with their health, and have unrealistic fears of disease may be experiencing a problem known as hypochondriasis. In hypochondriasis there is a constant fear of illness, and physical sensations are misinterpreted as signs of disease. It is not that the „symptoms“ are faked; hypochondriacs actually experience the aches and pains that most of us feel as we go through an active existence (Costa & McCrae, 1985).

It is the misinterpretation of these sensations as symptoms of some dread disease – often in the face of unarguable medical evidence to the contrary – that characterizes hypochondriasis. Hypochondriasis is just one example of a class of disorders known as somatoform disorders (psychological difficulties that take on a physical or somatic form of one sort of another. Even though an individual reports physical symptoms, there is no underlying physical problem, or, if a physical problem does exist, the person’s reaction greatly exaggerates what would be expected from the medical problem alone. Only when a physical examination rules out actual physiological difficulties can a diagnosis of somatoform disorder be made (APA, 2000).

A cognitive-behavioral treatment works perfectly for people who suffer from somatoform disorders like hypochondriasis because behavioral-cognitive approaches to therapy are built on the premises that people who display abnormal behavior either have failed to acquire appropriate skills or have learned faulty or maladaptive skills. To remedy the problem, it is necessary to learn new, more adaptive behaviors or unlearn old, faulty patterns of behavior. Rational-emotive therapy, which is a cognitive-behavioral approach, would restructure a person’s belief system into a more realistic, rational, and logical set of views of the world, or in case of a hypochondriacs, about bodily sensations. Cognitive-behavioral therapists, then, bring an eclectic point of view to behavioral therapy, combining ideas derived from cognitive psychology with a behavioral approach (Plante, 2005).

Ihre Beate Landgraf

Costa, P. & McCrae, R. (1985) Hypochondriasis, neuroticism, and aging. American Psychologist, 40, 19-28. Retrieved February 14, 2010, from University of Phoenix library.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
Plante, T. (2005). Contemporary clinical psychology (2nd. ed.) Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons