Medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) are known to be costly, complex to manage and inadequately addressed in primary care settings. In many cases, there are unresolved psychological and emotional processes underlying these symptoms, leaving traditional medical approaches insufficient. This paper details the implementation of an evidence-based, emotion-focused psychotherapy service for MUS across two family medicine clinics. The theory and evidence-base for using Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP) with MUS is presented along with the key service components of assessment, treatment, education and research. Preliminary outcome indicators showed diverse benefits. Patients reported significantly decreased somatic symptoms in the Patient Health Questionnaire-15 (d
= 0.4). A statistically significant (23%) decrease in family physicians’ visits was found in the 6 months after attending the MUS service compared to the 6 months prior. Both patients and primary care clinicians reported a high degree of satisfaction with the service. Whilst further research is needed, these findings suggest that a direct psychology service maintained within the family practice clinic may assist patient and clinician function while reducing healthcare utilization. Challenges and further service developments are discussed, including the potential benefits of re-branding the service to become a ‘Primary Care Psychological Consultation and Treatment Service’.
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