The aims of this study were to estimate the prevalence of somatized mental disorder (SMD) in comparison to psychologized mental disorder (PMD) among a sample of primary health care (PHC) Arab patients, and to investigate the clinical and sociodemographic characteristics of SMD. The first stage of study was conducted by general practitioners (GPs), using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12). The second stage was carried out by a psychiatrist using the Clinical Interview Schedule (CIS) and an inquiry schedule. Specific operational criteria were used to identify SMD and PMD. The estimated prevalence rate of SMD among the total screened sample was 12%. SMD patients constituted 48% of the psychiatric patients identified, whereas, for the PMD group, this figure was 42%. Educational level was significantly lower in the SMD group. Headache, backache, and abdominal pain were the most commonly presented somatic symptoms. The symptoms pursued a chronic and persistent course and most patients experienced multiple symptoms. The most common ICD-10 psychiatric diagnoses among both SMD and PMD patients were mixed anxiety and depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and mood and adjustment disorders. Recurrent depressive disorder and dysthymia were significantly more prevalent in the PMD group. The severity of psychiatric illness identified was greater among psychologizers than the somatizers of mental disorder. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Inc.