There are many controversial disability syndromes, representing medicolegal and social dilemmas for a variety of medical disciplines. While illness behavior and sick role phenomena are often invoked to explain many of these syndromes, the extent to which such phenomena are under volitional control has not been thoroughly explored. The volitional control of illness behavior has important treatment implications, and may explain why cognitive therapy can be effective in these patients. Further understanding of the relevance of cognitive theory to illness behavior, the sick role, secondary gain, and disability may render even more effective cognitive therapy approaches. This review explores the consciousness states, the role of each state in information processing (in this case processing illness information), the automaticity and hence volitional state of each level of information processing, and the likelihood that illness behavior in disability syndromes is volitional. The cognitive model of these syndromes considers the interaction of automaticity, volition, and illness behavior and likely has numerous clinical, social, and legal applications.