The model helps the field of psychology and mental health acknowledge that each of the three systems overlap and interact, playing a role in wellbeing, risk for illness, and effective treatment for clients. This foundation places importance on client self-awareness and the relationship they have with health care providers.
Every client is different. Individual beliefs, drives, values, environmental background, resources, and genetics play a role in both understanding and treatment. Psychological disorders are not the result of a linear cause and effect, which the medical model suggests. Instead, they should be viewed as a complex circular model of multiple causes and effects.
Relationship between mental and physical health
The biopsychosocial model is an important model for the field of psychology because there are both direct and indirect relationships between physical and mental health (Ohrnberger et al., 2017).
As mentioned previously, the dynamic interaction between each of the three components shows the need to consider biological and social areas through the lens of psychology.
5 Activities and exercises
There are many practical ways to implement activities and exercises using the biopsychosocial model.
1. Activity monitoring
Activity monitoring is an exercise used in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for behavioral activation. Clients record what they are doing throughout the day, generally going hour by hour, and the moods that follow these activities.
This creates awareness of how much time is spent doing specific tasks (e.g., watching TV, scrolling through social media) and how it makes the client feel. Clients may also start to see how positive behaviors such as physical activity and positive social interaction can improve mood, which is a motivating way to get them to engage in healthy coping mechanisms.
2. Goal worksheets
Setting specific goals in areas of physical (biological), social, and environment (such as work, school, and extracurricular areas) can improve mental and emotional health as well.
Goal worksheets can be a great way to address all areas of the biopsychosocial model. This SMART+ Goals worksheet outlines SMART goals that can be implemented in any area of a client’s life.
3. Scheduling pleasurable moments
Since the biopsychosocial model is based on the concept of holistic healing and wellness, scheduling positive, joyful, and peaceful moments into a client’s daily life and routine can be a helpful activity.
This Pleasant Activity Scheduler provides a guide for thinking about and planning pleasurable moments. These moments may encompass any or every area of the client (biological, psychological, or social). For example, scheduling time with friends (social) to go on a walk (physical/biological) can help with mood (psychological).
Mindfulness is beneficial for physical, mental, emotional, and social health. It helps bring us into the present moment to fully experience life. The Right Here, Right Now worksheet provides guidance for practicing mindfulness in any area of life.
5. Nature walk
The benefits of walking in nature touch on physical health and mental and emotional wellbeing and can be done with friends or loved ones to incorporate a social element as well. Any time spent in nature is good for health.
This worksheet Nature Play provides additional guidelines to focus on in order to make the most of the experience.
4 Tips When Applying the Biopsychosocial Model of Mental Health
One of the most important aspects of applying the biopsychosocial model to mental health is in the assessment process.
Assessment is one foundational way this model sets itself apart from other models used in psychotherapy and counseling. The assessment process tends to be more in depth by including psychological, biological, and social components (see above for examples of each).
In addition to a comprehensive assessment, the following areas should be considered when using the biopsychosocial approach.
Collaborating with other medical professionals is an important part of integrating holistic and thorough treatment in the biopsychosocial model. Medical doctors, psychiatrists, nutritionists, social workers, and legal experts are some examples of professionals that can play a part in a client’s treatment plan.
Practitioners should recognize that the relationship with other professionals is central in providing care.
2. Individualized treatment plan
Along with collaboration, the treatment plan for clients should be individualized based on specific biological, psychological, and social factors that are uncovered during the assessment. The treatment plan will include collaboration with appropriate medical professionals and specialists.
3. Cultural competence
It is critical to have cultural competence when using the biopsychosocial model in therapy. Cultural factors play a role in each of the three components of the model and should be understood and addressed in assessment, treatment planning, and ongoing care.
It’s important to understand how a client’s beliefs, values, and background play a role in their past experience, current situation, and choice of effective treatment.
4. Ethical consideration of autonomy
A client’s autonomy is central to the biopsychosocial model. It allows clients to make informed decisions of which aspects of the treatment plan they are open to and willing to comply with.
For example, a client who is against taking psychiatric medication should not be forced or coerced into believing this is the only (or most important) way to treat a mental health problem. Providing multidimensional options to treatment is a critical part of patient care.
Critiques of the Model
While the biopsychosocial model is comprehensive, holistic, and applicable to many areas of the medical field, it is not without its critics.
Lehman et al. (2017) suggest that the model is insensitive to a client’s subjective experience. These authors further claim that the model does not have safeguards in place to protect against allowing one of the three domains to be either over- or under-represented or emphasized.
In other words, there is still the probability that practitioners would focus too much attention on one of the three areas and neglect the rest.
An additional critique of the model is that it unintentionally creates a false distinction between biology and psychology (Wade & Halligan, 2017). This causes confusion in training programs and psychological assessments and has contributed to the stigmatization of mental health.
3 Best Books and Resources
There are a multitude of books and resources on the biopsychosocial model. These books offer deeper insight into the model and practical ways to assess and apply it in a therapy practice.
1. The Biopsychosocial Formulation Manual: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals – William Campbell and Robert Rohrbaugh
This is a comprehensive guidebook that provides a framework for conducting biopsychosocial assessments and formulating interventions in the field of mental health.
The book emphasizes the significance of considering biological, psychological, and social factors when understanding and addressing an individual’s mental health concerns.
It offers practical tools and case examples to aid mental health professionals in effectively integrating these diverse components into their clinical practice. The manual is designed to enhance the assessment and treatment process, ultimately improving patient care and outcomes.
Find the book on Amazon.
2. The Rise and Fall of the Biopsychosocial Model: Reconciling Art & Science in Psychiatry – Nassir Ghaemi
This text delves into the historical trajectory of the biopsychosocial model in psychiatry and its impact on clinical practice.
The book critically examines the tensions between scientific objectivity and the subjective nature of mental health care, offering insights into reconciling these aspects.
It provides a thought-provoking exploration of how art and science converge in the field of psychiatry.
Find the book on Amazon.
3. Biopsychosocial Assessment in Clinical Health Psychology – Frank Andrasik, Jeffrey Goodie, and Alan Peterson
This book provides tools for assessing health-related behaviors in each of the three areas of the biopsychosocial model. Through evaluating behavior and psychosocial components of mental illness, it provides evidence-based ideas for assessment and treatment.
The comprehensive text addresses behavioral, cognitive, and emotional issues and needs that clients may present with and how to guide them effectively on a path to holistic wellness.
Find the book on Amazon.
Breathwork, specifically yogic breathing, has both physical and mental benefits, including decreasing stress and blood pressure, assisting with sleep, improving lung function, and improving cognitive performance (Sharma et al., 2013). This Yogic Breathing worksheet can be a guide for clients to get started with breathwork practice.
These Nurturing vs. Depleting Activities invite clients to review their daily activities and then assess whether these activities help or are detrimental to their mental, physical, and social health. Once they see how their time is spent, they can proactively seek activities that are more nurturing to their physical, social, and psychological health.
As mentioned earlier, being in nature can have many positive effects in all areas of health. This article What Is Nature and Ecotherapy & How Does It Work? expands on these benefits and offers wonderful ideas to help practitioners use nature to incorporate the three aspects of the biopsychosocial model.
This Exercise and Mental Health worksheet is designed for children and can be a great reminder of the benefits of exercise, physical activity, and movement on mental health and other areas of wellness. It explores ideas for becoming more active and encourages children and families to think about forms of exercise they might try.
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.
A Take-Home Message
The path to health, healing, and wellness has many different roads. The biopsychosocial model provides a holistic approach to treating mental health.
The biological, psychological, and social aspects of an individual’s deficits and opportunities can be addressed to formulate an effective treatment plan. Through cultivating self-awareness and providing options for autonomy, clients can take charge of their health and improve various aspects of their lives.
The biopsychosocial model is both a philosophy of clinical care and a practical guide that clinicians can use for treatment. Moving beyond the one-size-fits all approach, multiple areas can be addressed to improve physical, psychological, and social wellbeing.
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