CBT for Health Anxiety and Medically Unexplained Symptoms

Prof. Winfried Rief

Tuesday, 29 November 2022


Physical symptoms are the major reason to seek medical treatment for most patients. However, most physical symptoms cannot be explained and understood only by a pure biomedical concept, but psychological factors play a major role in the perception, interpretation and consequences of physical symptoms. Their classification (e.g., using the concept of somatic symptom disorder) will be presented. Psychological factors that contribute to an amplified perception of physical symptoms as well as causal factors for the development of complaints beyond biomedical processes will be highlighted. A special emphasis will be given to the treatment of physical symptoms in psychosomatic and medical conditions in general. While many patients are reluctant to psychological re-attributions of their symptoms, pathways how to motivate these patients to participate in psychological interventions will be shown. Finally, a structured approach how to treat these patients successfully will be presented. Scientific evidence confirmed that the presented treatment approach is highly successful and can help to improve patients’ capacity to cope with physical symptoms. Further benefits can result from a patient-tailored approach to pain and other somatic symptoms.

The event will be equivalent to 1.1/2hrs of CPD.


This workshop will provide:
• Approaches how to classify somatic complaints
• Approaches how to deal with and modify a biomedical illness concept in patients with physical complaints
• How to engage people with somatic complaints into psychological treatments?
• Training patients how to cope with somatic complaints
• Special approaches for the treatment of health anxiety / hypochondriasis
• Variations for other physical complaints (e.g., chronic pain)

Learning Objectives

• Understanding the psychological mechanisms that are involved in somatic complaints and/or health anxieties
• How to motivate people with somatic complaints and/or health anxieties to psychological treatments
• Using a step-by-step approach to treat people with somatic complaints
• Using some special techniques to treat illness anxieties

Training Modalities

Didactic content; case stories; Q&A; perhaps live role play and some live demonstrations

Key References

Rief, W.& Martin, A. (2014). How to use the new DSM-5 diagnosis Somatic Symptom Disorder in research and practice? – A critical evaluation and a proposal for modifications. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 10, 339–67.
Kleinstauber, M., Allwang, C., Bailer, J., Berking, M., Brunahl, C., Erkic, M., Gitzen, H., Gollwitzer, M., Gottschalk, J. M., Heider, J., Hermann, A., Lahmann, C., Lowe, B., Martin, A., Rau, J., Schroder, A., Schwabe, J., Schwarz, J., Stark, R., Weiss, F. D., & Rief, W. (2019). Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Complemented with Emotion Regulation Training for Patients with Persistent Physical Symptoms: A Randomised Clinical Trial. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 88(5), 287-299.
Glombiewski, J.A., Jeroen, J., Vlaeyen, J., Riecke, J., Holzapfel, S. & Rief, W. (2018). Exposure and CBT for chronic back pain: an RCT on differential efficacy and optimal length of treatment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 86, 533-545.

About the presenter

Rief, Winfried, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of Marburg, Germany. Head of the Clinic for Psychological Interventions. License for psychotherapy and supervision. Dr. Rief worked for many years in hospital settings. He is specialized in placebo- and nocebo effects, classification of chronic pain conditions, perception and coping with somatic symptoms, optimization of clinical studies and interventions. He was guest professor at Harvard Medical School, Boston (2004/2005), University of Auckland Medical School (2002), and University of California San Diego (2009/2010). Additionally, he was nominated for the expert committee of WHO/APA for the revision of the classification of mental disorders according to DSM-5, and he is co-chairing the WHO working group on chronic pain diagnoses in ICD-11. This ICD-11 classification proposal for chronic pain was adopted by the World Health Assembly 2019. He received the Distinguished Researchers Award in Behavioral Medicine of ISBM in 2014, and the European Psychosomatic Award (EAPM) in 2020.

Who should attend

This webinar is most suitable for practitioners delivering CBT interventions for patients presenting with somatic complaints and illness anxiety in primary and secondary care.