The Psychosocial Factors behind Chronic Disease


The two principal factors in the onset, progression, and recurrence of disease are the physical and psychosocial factors. Physical factors have been the main focus of modern medicine.  The psychosocial factors are not directly addressed by medicine, yet their influence on disease cannot be ignored.  Research has now over a century of studies showing how psychosocial factors may cause the onset and progression of such diseases like heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis are responding to our psyche.

Psychosocial factors include repressed and unresolved past emotions, trauma, beliefs, behaviors, unhealthy family dynamics, and relationship styles. Why has Western Medicine excluded this key component in the healing process?

Psychosocial Factors Were Excluded for Over 400 Years

The idea that psychological and social stressors might be involved in the causation, exacerbation, and disease progression began to return in the late 1800s. Two main advocates where renowned physicians such as Charcot and Osler. But the relationship that emotions, traumatic events, and personality have on health was dismissed by most scientists and physicians of the time. Even with the birth of psychoneuroimmunology, epigenetics and health psychology that study this relationship, the connection between disease and mental states is still, in many instances, considered folklore:

“It is time to acknowledge that our belief in disease as a direct reflection of mental state is largely folklore.” – New England Journal of Medicine, 1985

Why this split between disease and mental states?

All psychosocial factors were removed from the equation of cause of disease by a philosophical split in the 1600s. This split, called dualism, continued to widen until it eliminated the psyche from anything happening in the body by materialism (read more on this philosophical split here).

Psychosocial Factors

This split has been attributed to Descartes. It had been brought on by the need to separate mind and soul from the body and physics to avoid religion’s wrath on the progression of science and medicine at the time. In the 17th century was a century of great discoveries. Medicine was striving to change the religious authorities attitudes regarding dissecting human cadavers to advance their knowledge of the body. There was a religious uproar with the publication of Copernicus’s book “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres” concerning the Earth’s orbit of the sun. To the extent that Galileo was being threatened with death if he did not swear to the church that he did not believe Copernicus’s theories.

The split continued to widen, and in the 19th century, materialism removed the mind completely from science.  According to Materialism, everything that happens follows from the laws of physics and physics only and that the mind is merely a by-product of the physical and has no influence back on it.

The mind’s return back into science and into medicine has been slow and continues to struggle to be included.

Belief is a hard thing to change.

Research on Psychosocial Factors

“Grief, vexation, and adverse changes in social circumstance are related to the onset of MS”  – Charcot

French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, in 1868, gave the first full clinical description of multiple sclerosis and the idea that psychological stress increases the risk of MS.

Research has found that the mind, stress, emotions, and personality influence the body and health. This influence is known in research as psychosocial factors.  Reseach has shown this relationship not only exists but, possibly, could be determinant in the onset and exacerbation of the disease.

Psychosocial Factors Behind Multiple Sclerosis

The following are some research on the psychosocial factors behind multiple sclerosis (MS):

  • …emotional stress in the involvement with a parent, a lack of psychological independence, an overwhelming need for love and affection, and the inability to feel or express anger are possible factors in the natural development of the disease.” “The Role of Psychological Process in a Somatic Disorder: Multiple Sclerosis,” Psychosom Med. 1970 Jan-Feb;32(1):67-86.
  • “Patients burdened by qualitatively extreme stress, such as major relationship difficulties or financial insecurity, are almost four times as likely to suffer exacerbation.” “Stress and Its Relationship to Acute Exacerbations in Multiple Sclerosis,” G. M. Franklin, Journal of Neurological Rehabilitation, 1970.

  • The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry published several studies finding that the number of severe events and marked life difficulties proceeding onset or exacerbation of MS was ten times more common and marital conflicts five times more frequent.
  • “People with MS have more unwanted stress or traumatic events between 6 months and two years before onset. Additionally, those with MS have between 2 to 3.4 times more childhood trauma than the general population.” The Influence of Stress on Psychosocial Factors in Multiple Sclerosis: A Review (2013) The study recommends completing pharmacological treatment with psycho-social therapies that teach coping strategies and provides social support.

Treating Psychosocial Factors Improves Symptoms

Research has proven that addressing these factors can improve symptoms.

  • “Biological Outcome Measurements for Behavioral Interventions in Multiple Sclerosis,” also saw the potential of effecting biology through behavioral interventions.

MINDbasedHealing’s case study by founder Eva M Clark, The Effectiveness of Hypnotherapy on Treating Multiple Sclerosis also found positive results from treating the psychosocial factors through hypnotherapy and NLP interventions. The study concluded that “People diagnosed with MS have ingrained habit patterns of the mind specific to their symptoms.  When those habit patterns are transformed using a combination of methods that bring (1) insight into a person’s habit patterns and (2) resources to modify those patterns, the symptoms decrease and frequently disappear. “

Research has shown symptom improvement by addressing the psychosocial factors behind the disease.  The mind does influence the physical body.

Developing Effective Psychosocial Treatments

MINDbasedHealing’s mission is to lead in the development and application of mind-based practices, focusing on hypnotherapy and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), to effectively treat the psychosocial factors determinant in the onset, exacerbation, and recurrence of chronic disease with the goal of restoring health.