Ethical Psychotherapeutic Management of Medically Unexplained Symptoms, forthcoming in Oxford Handbook of Psychotherapy Ethics

Keith Geraghty, Diane Oleary

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

Management of medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) is undergoing a period of change. We see this in the recent breakdown of consensus on mental health management of quintessential medically unexplained conditions (like myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome), and in recent work in bioethics suggesting that the issue of biological versus mental health management of MUS is fundamentally an ethical matter. For these reasons, it’s important to think carefully about ethical aspects of MUS management in psychotherapeutic settings. In Part 1 of this chapter, we show how ambiguity in the term “MUS” leads to routine conflation of diagnostic uncertainty with psychological diagnosis for unexplained symptoms in medical settings. In Part 2, we explore evidence suggesting that substantial harm results from a failure to draw that distinction in medical settings, and we clarify the psychotherapist’s obligations to avoid those harms. In Part 3, we explore the risk for psychological harms when psychotherapists conflate diagnostic uncertainty with psychological diagnosis. Finally, in Part 4 we consider challenges to informed consent in psychotherapy for MUS. We conclude with principles for ethical psychotherapeutic management of MUS.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Psychotherapy Ethics
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jul 2020

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