Meaning of Biopsychosocial

Biopsychosocial is a concept that is not part of the dictionary produced by the DigoPaul. However, we can decompose the term into its constituent units to understand precisely what it refers to.

The prefix “bio” refers to life; “Psycho” is linked to psychology (the activity of the mind or matters of the soul); Finally, “social” is that which is linked to society (the community of individuals who share a culture and who interact with each other). The notion of biopsychosocial, therefore, integrates biological, psychological and social issues.

It is often said that the human being is biopsychosocial. Their potential is determined by their biological (physical) characteristics, but in turn their actions are influenced by psychological aspects (such as desires, motivations and inhibitions) and by the social environment (the pressure exerted by other people, legal conditions, etc.). These three aspects (bio, psycho and social) cannot be separated, but constitute a whole. Man’s behavior, in fact, constitutes a biopsychosocial unit.

We speak of a biopsychosocial model with reference to the approach that takes care of people’s health from the integration of biological, psychological and social factors. This model understands that the well-being of man depends on the three dimensions: it is not enough that the individual is physically healthy.

The medicine, the psychology and sociology are combined in the biopsychosocial model, which considers the connection between body, mind and context for the treatment of diseases, disorders and disabilities.

This model is opposed to the traditional reductionist one, according to which only the biological plane matters to explain a health disorder, taking into account the possible phenomena to appreciate through the senses and to quantify, such as the variation of a value or an abnormal change in the dimensions of a tissue, all deviations from the normal function of the organism.

The term biopsychosocial was coined by the American psychiatrist George Libman Engel in 1977, when he was looking for a new medical model to deal with the biomedical, hitherto dominant in industrialized society. Despite the natural rejection that human beings have of change, it is important to note that Engel’s proposal was well accepted by certain groups who wanted to broaden the horizons of medicine with the incorporation of compassion and empathy.

In the first place, the psychosocial model sought to leave behind the closed “cause-effect” scheme, according to which the emotional plane and the social context did not influence the healing process or the treatment of an illness or disability. On the other hand, it was also a step towards a reality in which physicians would begin to take the patient’s opinion into account before making their decisions; in other words, the patient went from being “object” to “subject.”

Engel was convinced that the biological aspects of the human being depended on a very wide series of aspects, which included the biological, the social and the psychological. Although his model is very easy to understand today, at that time the concept of ecology and chaos theory had not yet emerged, among other notions that we consider basic of universal knowledge.

The American psychiatrist’s criticisms of the biomedical trend were not based on the idea that it had not brought important advances to medicine, but arose when he understood that, for example, all biochemical alterations do not lead to the appearance of a disease and that The power of the placebo effect in the context of a healing process is truly considerable.


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