Emotional Representations and Self-Regulation in Functional Somatic Illnesses





Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in General Psychology (MAGP)



First Advisor

Lori Lange

Second Advisor

Brian Fisak

Third Advisor

Michael Toglia

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick


The current study investigated emotional representations (anxiety, fear, anger,) and coping strategies in individuals whose ongoing physical symptoms have no organic explanation. The study was an online survey that included 276 patients currently experiencing physical symptoms, and diagnosed with either a conventional disease (CD), a functional somatic syndrome (FSS), or having medically unexplained symptoms (MUS). Illness representations involving greater consequences and poorer illness coherence were associated with greater emotional representations (anxiety, fear, and anger). Contrary to the hypothesis, medically unexplained symptom patients reported less emotional representations than functional somatic syndrome and conventional disease patients. The study hypothesized that patients with greater emotional representations would be more likely to use emotion-focused coping strategies such as emotional venting more so than problem-focused coping strategies such as planning. Functional somatic syndrome and conventional disease patients reported greater emotional representations and more emotion-focused coping strategies such as greater self-blame, behavioral disengagement, denial, venting, substance abuse, and surprisingly, planning. This information adds to the framework of illness representation and self-regulation model especially for functional somatic syndrome and medically unexplained symptom patients that lack biomedical information and accessible resources. The self-regulation theory is useful in guiding staff nurses with their patient care in general activities and pain intervention. This theory is valuable for patients in providing a rationale and understanding of their illness, in addition, to the associated consequences and coping strategies.

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