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Starting to Understand the Biopsychosocial Model

Coach TBear speaks on The biopsychosocial model (BPS).


I wanted to introduce this concept because I’ve been through some injuries and setbacks that were extremely frustrating and tough to cope with.

The biopsychosocial model (BPS) is basically an interdisciplinary approach that recognizes that the human being is an integrated system of systems.  Your biology (the tissue system itself) matters, your nutrition matters, your gym matters, and these are highly influenced by your brain and your environment.  I needed to pay attention to the brain and what was happening in there because my fear and pain beliefs around healing were constantly changing.

The Biopsychosocial model was first conceptualized by George Engel in 1977, suggesting that to understand a person's medical condition it is not simply the biological factors to consider, but also the psychological and social factors.

The 'bio' component of this theory examines aspects of biology that influence health. These might include things like genetics, or functioning of major body organs, such as the liver, the kidneys, or even the motor system. For example, let's say Jon has an accident that leaves him with severely reduced movement in his left knee. This biological change might influence how he feels about himself, which could lead to depression or anxiety in certain situations.

The 'psycho' component of the theory examines psychological components, things like thoughts, emotions, or behaviours. Jon might go through many different psychological changes. He might experience decreased self-esteem, fear of judgment, or feel inadequate in his life or job. These changes in thoughts might lead to changes in behaviours, like avoiding certain situations, staying at home, and reducing his productive work hours. As he engages in these behaviours, his injury gets better and then worsens, and goes on in a roller coaster fashion to further frustration, depression and despair.  

The 'social' component of the BPS model examines social factors that might influence the health of an individual, things like our interactions with others, our culture, or our economic status. A possible social factor for Jon could be his role around work. An injured leg reduces his ability to run, squat, jump, and move around without a limp. Being unable to fulfill this social role might trigger problems with wife/family/friends, causing Jon stress that could lead to further biological or psychological problems.

An important connection to make here is that the elements of the BPS model are all connected. Biology can affect psychology, which can affect social well-being, which can further affect biology, and so on. Jon's biological state changed, which affected his psychological state and social interactions, which all went on to affect each other again and again.

So, the power of the BPS model is that it looks at health and wellness (sporting performance) in a variety of contexts and examines how the interaction of different factors leads to specific issues for and individual. 

In Part 2 we'll share some best practices on how to help Jon.