Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Family therapy and psychosomatic illness

  • 70 Accesses

  • 7 Citations


The author suggests that clinical experience has developed to the point where the question can be asked, “Is a specific psychosomatic illness responsive to a specific type of family therapy?” Examples such as structural family therapy in childhood diabetes, asthma, pain, and anorexia nervosa; cognitive family therapy in adult chronic pain; and marital group behaviour modification in adult obesity, chronic pain, and myocardial infarction, are critically reviewed. The evidence suggests, but does not yet prove, that specific types of marital and family therapy may be effective in a few specific psychosomatic problems, a useful adjunctive therapy in some psychosomatic problems, and that family assessment is helpful in the management of all psychosomatic problems.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Alger, I. Family therapeutic approaches to the medically ill patient. In T.B. Karasu & R.I. Steinmuller (Eds.)Psychotherapeutics in medicine, New York: Grune & Stratton, 1978, pp. 203–222.

  2. Anthony, E.J. The impact of mental and physical illness on the family life.American Journal of Psychiatry, 1970,127, 56–64.

  3. Barcai, A. Family therapy in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.American Journal of Psychiatry, 1971,128, 286–290.

  4. Binger, C.M., Ablin, A.R., Feuerstein, R.C., Kushner, J.H., Zoger, S., & Mikkelsen, C. Childhood leukemia: Emotional impact on patient and family.New England Journal of Medicine, 1969, 280, 414–418.

  5. Burbeck, T.W. An empirical investigation of the psychosomatogenic family model.Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 1979,23, 327–337.

  6. Burke, R.J., Weir, T., & Dowors, R.E., Jr. Type A behaviour of administrators and wives: Report of marital satisfaction and well being.Journal of Applied Psychology 1979,64(1), 57–65.

  7. Caplan, G.Principles of preventive psychiatry, New York: Basic Books, 1964.

  8. Goldberg, E.M.Family influences and psychosomatic illnesses, London: Tavistock Publications 1958.

  9. Gourash, N. Help-seeking: A review of the literature.American Journal of Community Psychology, 1978,6, 499–517.

  10. Grolnick, L. A family perspective of psychosomatic factors and illness: A review of the literature.Family Process, 1972,11, 457–486.

  11. Halliday, J.L.Psychosocial medicine. New York: W. W. Norton, 1948.

  12. Hoebel, F.C. Coronary artery disease and family interaction: A study of risk factor modification. In P. Watzlawick & J. Weakland (Eds.)The interactional view. New York: W.W. Norton, 1977.

  13. Hudgens, A.J. Family oriented treatment of chronic pain.Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 1979, October, 67–78.

  14. Huth, C.M. Illness and the family.Annals of Internal Medicine, 1978,89(1), 132–133.

  15. Kreitman, N. et al. Hypochondriasis and depression in outpatients at a general hospital.British Journal of Psychiatry, 1965,111, 607.

  16. Liebman, R. An integrated treatment program for psychogenic pain.Family Process, 1976,15, 397.

  17. Liebman, R., Minuchin, S., Baker, L. et al. The treatment of anorexia nervosa.Current Psychiatric Therapies, 1975,15, 51–57.

  18. Meissner, W.W. Family process and psychosomatic disease.International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 1974,5(4), 411–430.

  19. Minuchin, S. The use of an ecological framework in the treatment of a child. In E.J. Anthony & C. Koupernik (Eds.)The child in his family. New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1970.

  20. Minuchin, S., Baker, L., Rosman, B.L. et al. Conceptual model of psychosomatic illness in children.Archives of General Psychiatry, 1975,32, 1031.

  21. Mohamed, S.N., Weisz, G.M., & Waring, E.M. The relationship of chronic pain to depression, marital adjustment and family dynamics.Pain, 1978,5, 285–292.

  22. Neill, J.R., Marshall, J.R. & Yale, C.E. Marital changes after intestinal bypass surgery.Journal of the American Medical Association, 1978,240(5) 447–450.

  23. Nemiah, J.C. Alixothymia.Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 1977,28, 199–206.

  24. Richardson, H.B.Patients have families. New York: Commonwealth Fund, 1948.

  25. Russell, A., Russell, L., & Waring, E.M. Cognitive family therapy: A preliminary report.Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 1980,15(1), 64–67.

  26. Sifneos, P.E. Problems of psychotherapy of patients with alixothymic characteristics and physical disease.Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 1975,26(2), 65–70.

  27. Sperling, M. Psychotherapeutic techniques in psychosomatic medicine. In G. Bychowski & J.L. Despert (Eds.),Specialized techniques in psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books, 1952.

  28. Stern, M.J. & Pascale, L. Psychosocial adaptation post myocardial infarction: The spouse's dilemma.Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 1979,23, 83–87.

  29. Waring, E.M. The role of the family in symptom selection and perpetuation in psychosomatic illness.Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 197728(104), 253–259.

  30. Waring, E.M. Psychosomatic symptoms and marital adjustment.Psychiatric Forum, 1979,8(2), 9–13.

  31. Waring, E.M. Marital intimacy, psychosomatic symptoms and cognitive therapy.Psychosomatics, 1980,21, 595–601.

  32. Weakland, J.H. Family somatics: A neglected edge.Family Process 1977,16(3), 263–272.

  33. Weisz, G.M.Sources of control and behaviour change in overweight women. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of W. Ontario, July, 1976.

  34. Wishner, W.J., & O'Brien, M.D. Diabetes and the family.Medical Clinics of North America, 1978,62(4), 849–856.

  35. Wittkower, E.D., & Warner, H. Cultural aspects of psychotherapy.American Journal of Psychotherapy, October, 1974,28, 566–573.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Edward M. Waring.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Waring, E.M. Family therapy and psychosomatic illness. International Journal of Family Therapy 2, 243–252 (1980).

Download citation


  • Obesity
  • Asthma
  • Myocardial Infarction
  • Chronic Pain
  • Health Psychology