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The biopsychosocial approach is a way of looking at the treatment of patients. Doctors who apply this view of medicine see the patient's psychological condition and social situation as integral parts of the individual's overall health. A man named George Engel developed the biopsychosocial theory of medicine during the 1970s, and he generally saw it as an alternative to the dominant biomedical approach, which was entirely focused on physical aspects of illness. Initially, his idea didn’t win that much support, but over time, some of his theories have gained more respect. The biopsychosocial approach isn’t generally considered the norm, but many of the ideas have made an impact on medicine.
Studies over the years have shown some real physiological consequences when it comes to a person’s mental state. A fairly well-known example of this is the idea of a placebo effect. Patients can be told that they are taking a medicine when they actually aren’t, and they might experience some level of relief just because they believe the medicine is real. Other studies have shown that happy patients heal more rapidly and have a better chance at recovery than those who are depressed. These bits of data generally support the idea behind the biopsychosocial approach.
Another concept that favors a broader approach to treating patients is the idea that behaviors are often directly related to illnesses. For example, people often become sick because of their inability to control themselves when eating or using harmful substances. This could be seen as a psychological issue with direct physical consequences. Doctors who follow the biopsychosocial approach tend to view every aspect of the patient as an important key to overall health, and they often look for psychological tendencies that might make a person more likely to be sick.
When people do become ill, sometimes a biopsychosocial approach can help them tolerate their illness better. Even if treating the patient’s psychological or social life doesn’t have a direct physical consequence, it can still play a role in that patient's overall life experience and, therefore, affect the patient’s perception of health. For example, if a patient is depressed about his sickness and generally in a bad mood overall, his physical symptoms might improve without really changing his overall negative outlook. A doctor using a biopsychosocial approach would probably take that into account and may help the patient by providing a counselor or antidepressant medication.