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Long-COVID Symptoms and Somatoform Disorders

Updated: Jul 25

How some registered physiotherapists are working to fill the gap in services in treating Long-COVID Symptoms


July 5, 2022


Dealing with long-COVID symptoms is an important and emerging issue. Due to the newness of this medical issue, there doesn't exist a substantial body of evidence-based work to fall back on in terms of treatment, and the number of people suffering from this condition seems to be greater than the ability to address it now. However, some registered physiotherapists are working to fill this gap in services.


The most challenging thing that some mental health clinics are seeing right now regarding long COVID is the vagueness of symptomology. Many patients suffer commonly from brain fog, difficulty with energy and focus, lack of motivation, pain, anxiety, or depression. What clinicians know about these conditions is that they are strikingly similar to an already known and identified condition: a somatoform disorder.


Somatoform disorders are characterized by physical sensations and bodily pain that may not be linked to a medical condition or physiologic damage.


For those that have physiologic damage, like liver damage, lung scarring, or heart damage, medical treatments are necessary to help recover. For the majority of patients, this damage is not able to be found. For those who fall outside the category of physically damaged by COVID, therapists can start to look at it from the perspective of a somatoform issue.


“Conceptualizing symptoms from a psychological lens is crucial to getting my patients the help they need. Many mental health clinicians will tell you that dealing with somatoform disorders is difficult as they are some of the most complex patients they come across," says Dan Klco, Clinical Director at Nomina Integrated Health Winnipeg Clinic.


“Another thing many sufferers of long COVID have in common is pre-existing conditions. Although no clinical studies have yet been conducted, 100% of the patients I have seen have had some form of mental health condition or combination of conditions that have preceded COVID. For those without physical damage, it seems like COVID has acted like a magnifying lens to these conditions, making them worse to the point of disability," adds Dan.


Herein lies the main challenge with dealing with those suffering from long COVID: it's expensive. It's costly because it requires an entire medical and mental health personnel team to help just one person. One professional is not enough to help those get through their long-COVID somatoform disorder. The team often needs to include: a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, a pharmacist, a psychotherapist, an occupational therapist, and sometimes even a dentist. Treating this disorder requires a genuinely holistic approach involving many highly skilled individuals.


The clinics that are the most successful at treating this problematic condition have been treating somatoform disorders separate from long-COVID for years. Finding registered physiotherapists who use cutting-edge technologies like Direct Neurofeedback and advanced psychotherapies like ISTDP is vital when treating somatoform disorders. In conclusion, it is not only physicians that are required to meet the growing needs of long COVID symptoms patients, but a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals.



About Dan Klco, CD, MACP, RCC, CPA

Clinical Director Nomina Integrated Health Winnipeg, MB

Daniel’s practice as a clinical counsellor includes somatic focus work (ISTDP) on mental health experiences including depression, anxiety, pain management addictions, sexual health, and complex medically unexplained conditions. Daniel is also trained in other modalities such as EMDR, DNF, and other evidence based cognitive methods.



Long-COVID Symptoms and Somatoform Disorders

References:

Lam, Peggy. "Specialized clinics to treat long COVID are in demand and physicians say they can't keep up." CBC News. Jun 16, 2022 . https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/long-covid-clinics-wait-times-1.6490046


WebMD. What Is Long COVID (PASC)? https://www.webmd.com/lung/what-is-long-covid-pasc#1


"Off work for 8 years, woman says she got her life back with unique kind of talk therapy." CBC News. Jun 22, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/off-work-for-8-years-woman-says-she-got-her-life-back-with-unique-kind-of-talk-therapy-1.5978383