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What is the Biopsychosocial Model? - Definition & Example

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  • 0:01 Biopsychosocial Model
  • 0:58 Breakdown in Terms
  • 3:19 Applying the Model
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gina Mitchell
The biopsychosocial model is a tool that psychologists use to examine how psychological disorders develop. This lesson will provide a definition of this model and provide specific examples to illustrate how it can be used.

What Is the Biopsychosocial Model?

How can we find out why a person has anxiety or depression? What elements are involved? We can often identify many factors leading to the development of a psychological disorder, such as genetics, difficulty regulating emotions, or environmental stress. There is so much to consider that psychologists have adapted what's called the biopsychosocial (BPS) model, which examines biological, psychological, and social factors affecting an individual, to examine how and why disorders occur.

The BPS model isn't just used by psychologists; it has many applications in different fields because of how inclusive it is of different factors that influence human behavior. A doctor might wonder: 'How could different social situations lead to this disease?' Or, a social worker might want to see if a child's developmental disorder might have to do with being in a foster family.

Biopsychosocial Breakdown in Terms

The 'bio' component of this theory examines aspects of biology that influence health. These might include things like brain changes, genetics, or functioning of major body organs, such as the liver, the kidneys, or even the motor system. For example, let's say Joan has an accident that leaves her with reduced movement in her right arm. This biological change might influence how she feels about herself, which could lead to depression or anxiety in certain situations.

The 'psycho' component of the theory examines psychological components, things like thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. Joan might go through many different psychological changes. She might experience decreased self-esteem, fear of judgement, or feel inadequate in her life or job. These changes in thoughts might lead to changes in behaviors, like avoiding certain situations, staying at home, or quitting her job. As she engages in these behaviors, her injury might worsen, or she could suffer further depression and anxiety.

The 'social' component of the BPS model examines social factors that might influence the health of an individual, things like our interactions with others, our culture, or our economic status. A possible social factor for Joan could be her role in her household. Perhaps Joan is a new mother. An injured arm might reduce her ability to care for her new baby. Being unable to fulfill this social role might trigger problems with her husband or other family members, causing Joan stress that could lead to further biological or psychological problems.

An important connection to make here is that the elements of the BPS model are all connected. Biology can affect psychology, which can affect social well-being, which can further affect biology, and so on. Joan's biological state changed, which affected her psychological state and social interactions, which all went on to affect each other again.

Thus, the power of the BPS model is that it looks at health and disease in a variety of contexts and examines how the interaction of different factors leads to specific issues for an individual. To successfully treat Joan, her doctors might incorporate physical therapy to help her arm recover, psychological therapy to work out distress, and maybe integration into social programs so Joan can return to or create a regular social routine.

Applying the Biopsychosocial Model

Now that you understand what the BPS model is, let's look at an example to see how a psychologist would use this model in their everyday work.

Say that Dr. Stein has a new patient exhibiting erratic behavior that includes disordered thought processes, hallucinations, difficulty with attention, and delusional beliefs about the government. As an experienced practitioner, Dr. Stein recognizes these as possible symptoms of schizophrenia. She decides to bring the client in and run several tests to diagnose her new patient. Dr. Stein is also aware that many different factors can contribute to schizophrenia, so she decides to use the BPS model in her evaluation and treatment.

To first assess the biology of her patient, she runs several blood tests and brain scans. These can help look for signs of schizophrenia and rule out other possible conditions, such as a brain tumor.

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