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Youngsters' pain in clinical space. The social construction of pain and selves through treatment for children and adolescents with medically unexplained somatic symptoms

A growing number of young people suffer from recurrent somatic symptoms that cannot be fully explained by organic pathology and where the medical system suspects that an aspect of somatisation is involved in the patient’s presentation of symptoms. Such conditions are often given the diagnoses of ‘medically unexplained pain’ or ‘functional somatic symptoms’. These symptoms are distressful for the sufferer and result in impairment of several domains of daily life. In the health care system specialised treatment options are on the rise for this hitherto neglected patient group, and many of these treatment programmes adhere to a ‘biopsychosocial’ model of explanation and treatment.


In this PhD project the meaning and treatment of such symptoms in a Western clinical context are examined. The point of departure for the investigation is a Danish pain clinic for youngsters (age 8-18) located at a general, somatic hospital. The study is based on an anthropological fieldwork at the pain clinic following the treatment and subjective therapeutic processes of 21 youngsters and their co-hospitalised parents, and it explores the discourses and practises of participants, relatives, and therapists in the clinic. Working within the framework of medical anthropology treatment is regarded as a socio-cultural healing system, and focus is on how therapy defines and transforms self and pain in the clinical encounter.

PhD student: Sara Seerup Laursen


Period: 2013-2016 (PhD defence: January 6th 2017)


Employment: Pædiatrisk afdeling, Sygehus Sønderjylland, Sønderborg,  and the Department of Regional Health Research (employed in the Research Unit of User Perspectives, IST, University of Southern Denmark from January 2015- January 2016)



Egon Stenager, Professor, MD, Head of Research, Center Sønderjylland, Department of Regional Health Research & Focused Research Unit in Neurology, Hospital of Southern Jutland


Helle Johannessen, Professor, mag.scient. Department of Public Health, Research Unit of User Perspectives, University of Southern


Gitte Dehlholm-Lambertsen, MD, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Odense, University of Southern Denmark


Last Updated 28.09.2020