George Engel’s biopsychosocial model firmly believes that a combination of three important factors; namely, biological, social, and psychological, is the best way to completely understand health and its issues. PsycholoGenie gives you a general overview of the biopsychosocial model.
Did You Know?
George Engel first referred to the biopsychosocial model as the bio-psycho-social-cultural model. For the sake of convenience, and because culture was an aspect of the social factor of the model, the term was shortened to biopsychosocial.
The biopsychosocial model was introduced in 1977 by an American psychiatrist named George Engel. Though it was initially scoffed and rejected by several experts, it eventually gained popularity as a part of treatment to be administered in hospitals and similar settings.
When the BPS model was first introduced, the biomedical approach had gained a stronghold in the world of medicine― an approach that completely focused upon the physical aspects of disease, and this model largely contradicted it. Eventually, this particular medical approach gained respect among medical experts, though the range of its acceptance varies around the world.
What is the Biopsychosocial Model?
The biopsychosocial model, (BPS for short) is an interdisciplinary model which claims that the health and well-being of a person depends upon a range of factors: biological factors, psychological factors, and social factors. The model explains that all three factors are equally important in the health and well-being of human beings, and biological factors cannot be held solely and completely responsible for either health issues, or wellness. The biopsychosocial model is also popularly known as the mind-body connection, and is an important concept in the fields of psychiatry, clinical psychology, social work, medicine, and therapy, to name a few.
Though it isn’t a norm followed in hospitals or in other authoritative settings, it is used by several experts to decide the course of treatment to be administered to patients, especially those suffering from chronic illnesses, or those in palliative care. The advocates of the BPS model believe that medical treatment to a patient is of no use if the patient’s mental state and social capacity are not taken care of, as well. Studies suggest that patients who lean more towards negative thinking, unwillingness, and depression take more time to recover than those who think positively, and are relatively happier.
How does it Work?
✦ As the definition suggests, the biopsychosocial model is made up of three broad factors: bio(logy)+psycho(logy)+social factors. The biopsychosocial model also vaguely uses the example of the famous ‘placebo effect’ in putting forward its approach towards healthcare― the psychological state of a patient can cause physiological development to a large extent. The placebo effect studied patients suffering from an illness who were given sugar pills instead of medicine, and were told that what they were being given were powerful medicines which would help quick recovery. The seemingly miraculous medicine though not in existence brought about a lot of improvement in patients who believed it would cure them, and did not make a difference to the health of those patients who felt that no medicine in the world could ever cure them.
✦ The biological aspect of the BPS model deals with studying the physiological causes of a disease. However, according to the model, the physiological causes alone are not enough for the occurrence of an illness in the body, unless they are accompanied by the other two aspects of the model as well. Many illnesses or disorders have biological factors at their base, such as genetic issues, low immunity, hormones, and physical trauma, to name a few.
✦ The psychological aspect of the BPS model suggests that there might be some underlying mental conditions that contribute to the manifestation of an illness. The medical expert basing his treatment on the BPS model has to identify any psychological problems that may be affecting the patient’s health directly or indirectly, such as depression, addiction, low self-esteem, negative thinking, etc. For instance, depression or low self-esteem by itself does not seem like a reason for liver-related problems. However, a person suffering from depression or having a low self-esteem is more likely to drink excess alcohol than one who is not depressed, thus leading to liver-related issues.
✦ The social aspect of the biopsychosocial model refers to the environment that surrounds the patient. This aspect analyzes the diseases from a sociological point of view, and determines what external factors may have influenced the manifestation of the illness in the patient. These external factors could be anything from religion, to economic background, primary relationships, cultural environment, peer group, etc. For example, the media cannot be directly blamed for anorexia. However, the media’s portrayal and labeling of only thin women as ‘beautiful’ may influence a young girl to turn anorexic. (Anorexia is a disorder characterized by deliberate and extreme weight loss by throwing up consumed food.)
Its Importance in Psychology
Psychology, especially health psychology, has a lot to attribute to the BPS model. It is widely believed that the biopsychosocial model is somewhat the foundation of the mainstream development of health psychology. Clinical health psychology, public health psychology, community health psychology, and critical health psychology are all sub-fields that are highly based on the biopsychosocial model of health.
Explaining Risk-Taking Behavior
Risk-taking behavior is observed mainly in adolescents and young adults, which appears to be appropriate for development from their point of view. What seems dangerous, unnecessary, and ridiculous for an observer is equally thrilling, necessary, and meaningful for adolescents. Risk-taking behavior could be driving in an intoxicated state, unprotected sex, or indulging in criminal activities like shoplifting, mugging, etc. The biopsychosocial model explains that risk-taking behavior is sourced by physiological, social as well as psychological factors, such as hormones (biological), peer group (social), and aggression (psychological), to name a few. Experts cannot highlight any single factor that has been the cause of risk-taking behavior in young adults, rather, it is a combination of all three.
In Social Work Practice
Social workers are aware that every problem which requires their attention originates from an imbalance between the three factors mentioned in the biopsychosocial model of healthcare. For instance, an addiction to alcohol can be explained with biopsychosocial assessment― a teenager with poor self-control (psychological factor) will be tempted to drink alcohol whenever possible. He may be doing this to ‘fit’ in his peer group (social factor), which consists of addicts. His addiction will undoubtedly result in liver damage eventually. For social workers, it is necessary to not only study and analyze the problem and symptoms that make themselves fully apparent, but it is also very important to try to identify any underlying factors which may be directly or indirectly causing the said problem. Today, integrated healthcare systems consisting of medical experts, psychologists, and social workers are fast gaining popularity. These integrated healthcare systems help to identify the problem from every viewpoint, and thus determine treatment that is best-suited to that particular problem.
The biopsychosocial model has been met with both applause and criticism. Though critics beg to differ, this concept is highly promoted through self-help books, and philosophical and spiritual works. However, there is no doubt that this model has helped doctors understand, and ultimately, treat their patients better.
Disclaimer: This article is meant for informative purposes only. The author does not promote or criticize this approach towards healthcare in any way.