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Can J Psychiatry. 2015 Apr;60(4):160-7.

Chronic Pain, Psychopathology, and DSM-5 Somatic Symptom Disorder.

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Professor, Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Ontario.
Graduate Student, Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Ontario.


Unlike acute pain that warns us of injury or disease, chronic or persistent pain serves no adaptive purpose. Though there is no agreed on definition of chronic pain, it is commonly referred to as pain that is without biological value, lasting longer than the typical healing time, not responsive to treatments based on specific remedies, and of a duration greater than 6 months. Chronic pain that is severe and intractable has detrimental consequences, including psychological distress, job loss, social isolation, and, not surprisingly, it is highly comorbid with depression and anxiety. Historically, pain without an apparent anatomical or neurophysiological origin was labelled as psychopathological. This approach is damaging to the patient and provider alike. It pollutes the therapeutic relationship by introducing an element of mutual distrust as well as implicit, if not explicit, blame. It is demoralizing to the patient who feels at fault, disbelieved, and alone. Moreover, many medically unexplained pains are now understood to involve an interplay between peripheral and central neurophysiological mechanisms that have gone awry. The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, somatic symptom disorder overpsychologizes people with chronic pain; it has low sensitivity and specificity, and it contributes to misdiagnosis, as well as unnecessary stigma. Adjustment disorder remains the most appropriate, accurate, and acceptable diagnosis for people who are overly concerned about their pain.

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