Biopsychosocial model overview

The intellectual, theoretical foundation of rehabilitation must be the holistic biopsychosocial model of illness, already outlined here, but considered in much more depth in this section.

Several important themes and ideas will emerge. One message is that it is more appropriate to refer to the model as a theory of illness, because it is a systematic way of analysing and understanding illness. A theme that emerges throughout rehabilitation is that it is complex; in fact all parts of it are complex: the theory rests on complexity; a multidisciplinary team is a complex construct; and the interventions are often complex.

Arising from this is a consequence that applies to all aspects of rehabilitation, very little if anything in rehabilitation can be categorised: programmes of care; groups of patients; interventions and so on. Rehabilitation concerns people, and people can rarely be categorised across more than one domain.

The following pages cover different aspects:

General introduction

This part gives a more detailed overview of the biospychosocial model of illness, tracing (briefly) its development. The model of illness that preceded it, the biomedical model, is also discussed. It is still the dominant model. To read this part, click here.

Validity of biopsychosocial model of illness

This long page considers the validity and value of the model. It includes some discussion of what a model is (it is really a theory) and how validity is determined (it is compared with alternatives). It then compares the biopsychosocial theory of illness with the biomedical theory of disease. Then, after discussing the large variety of other models of illness, it considers its usefulness. Finally it discusses the criticisms of the biopsychosocial theory of illness. Read more here.

Time and the biopsychosocial model

This page explores the timeframes that apply in each system or domain of the biopsychosocial model. It demonstrates that the longer timeframes associated with disabilitation and rehabilitation are not well served in a healthcare system that runs in the short timescales associated with disease. To read more, go here.

Patient-centred care

This page explored the inter-relationship, indeed inter-dependence between being patient-centred and using the biopsychosocial model of illness. It then explored a model of communication based on the Four Habits approach, and the evidence behind the method. It teaches, briefly, what the method is and what it achieves. See here.


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