Psychosomatic medicine involves the treatment of individuals with physical manifestations of psychological and emotional issues. In the 1950s, psychiatrists, Peter Sifneos and John Nemiah, set out to empirically study individuals with psychosomatic conditions. What they found was that many of these patients struggled to describe their emotional states and think introspectively. Peter Sifneos developed a new psychological construct to describe these consistent findings. This descriptive was termed alexithymia, stemming from Greek roots signifying, “no words for emotions” (López-Muñoz & Pérez-Fernández, 2020; Muller, 2000).
Alexithymia is estimated to affect around 10% of the population. It is commonly associated with abnormalities in development and/or significant traumatic traumatic experiences. It is often seen in individuals with autism spectrum disorder and is linked to deficits in empathy. Based on our understanding of brain networks involved with introspection and emotional valence, scientists predict that alexithymia arises from aberrant circuits within the cingulate cortex and insula (Goerlich, 2018; Poquérusse et al., 2018).
For individuals with alexithymia there are lots of exercises that can be done to assist developing a stronger interoceptive sense. Journaling, reading, and the externalization of feelings through art can be very therapeutic for alexithymic individuals (Serani, 2014).