Somatic Symptom Disorder: Treatment

Therapists frequently employ cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help children identify the thoughts that fuel their anxiety reactions, with the goal of stopping behaviors that worsen their fear. Through CBT kids with somatic symptom disorder can learn to accept that their thoughts are just thoughts, and not proof of any physical illness.

After a child has some success with CBT, she may undergo exposure and response prevention therapy, which exposes kids to feared thoughts and stressors in a therapeutic setting, to gradually diminish their power and train the child not to react. For example, a boy who frequently monitors his vital signs might be asked to refrain from checking his pulse for a set period of time. A child afraid of going to the doctor might be asked to call the doctor’s office and make an appointment. Similarly, parents can be trained to be less reactive through exposure therapy. The therapist can also help families establish guidelines about when to call the pediatrician.

Pharmacological: Antidepressant medications such as SSRIs are sometimes prescribed to help relieve symptoms of anxiety.