Alexithymia, risk factor or consequence of work-related stress?

Research paper by W W de Vente, J H JH Kamphuis, P M G PM Emmelkamp

Indexed on: 11 Aug '06Published on: 11 Aug '06Published in: Psychotherapy and psychosomatics


Primary alexithymia has been proposed as a trait-like risk factor for various psychiatric disorders. Alternatively, secondary alexithymia has been conceptualized as an inadequate coping reaction to a stressful situation. This study investigated the level and the type of alexithymia associated with occupational stress.On 2 occasions, 69 patients with work-related stress and 62 healthy participants completed self-report instruments to measure alexithymia (20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale), burnout complaints (Maslach Burnout Inventory) and general distress complaints (Depression Anxiety Stress Scales, Checklist Individual Strength). Group differences in alexithymia were analyzed using ANOVAs. The type of alexithymia was investigated by (a) determining absolute and relative stability, (b) exploring state dependence by adjusting alexithymia for burnout and distress complaints and (c) associating recovery of complaints with change in alexithymia.Alexithymia was significantly elevated among patients. In the patient group, absolute stability of two alexithymia dimensions (identifying feelings, describing feelings) and relative stability of one alexithymia dimension (identifying feelings) was lower than in the healthy group. Cross-sectional group differences became small and nonsignificant after adjustment for distress complaints. Among patients, change in alexithymia was moderately associated with symptom recovery.Elevated alexithymia among patients with occupational stress is highly state dependent, which indicates the presence of secondary alexithymia.