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Int J Psychiatry Med. 1986-1987;16(4):347-57.

Alexithymia and pain in an outpatient behavioral medicine clinic.


Alexithymia is defined as a "lack of words for feelings." This deficiency has been suggested to play a role in the formation and maintenance of somatic symptoms. Prior research has found alexithymia prevalent in "classic" psychosomatic disorders. The present study examines the prevalence of alexithymia and its relationship to patient age, sex, and report of pain. The sample was 208 consecutive outpatients evaluated on a Behavioral Medicine Service and presenting with pain as a primary symptom. Results indicated that the prevalence of alexithymia in this study is consistent with prior research using inpatient pain patients and a similar MMPI alexithymia subscale. Additional analyses of the MMPI clinical and validity scales revealed that alexithymic patients were more defensive and presented themselves in a favorable manner reflecting a "normal" picture of mental health. It is suggested that alexithymia may play a role in chronic pain syndromes. Further research is needed to examine this deficiency and its potential etiological significance in these disorders.

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