Could you imagine experiencing something so traumatic that you find yourself paralyzed and unable to speak, literally? It’s terrifying to imagine, but symptoms such as paralysis, numbness, deafness, or blindness can result from a rare condition known as conversion disorder. Conversion disorder gives a new meaning to the concept of mind over matter.

What Is Conversion Disorder?

Conversion disorder, also known as functional neurological symptom disorder (FND), is a fascinating psychiatric disorder where a person’s physical symptoms are inconsistent with the usual pattern of other known neurological diseases.

Conversion disorder is often inadequately understood, developing unwarranted accusations and stigma surrounding the condition and the individual. Understanding this unformulated mental health disorder will involve learning more about the symptoms and treatment methods and the social, biological, and psychological factors associated with conversion disorder.

Symptoms of Conversion Disorder

Even though conversion disorder has no biological basis, the symptoms substantially affect an individual’s capacity to function. In particular, the condition is categorized by symptoms impacting an individual’s sensory or motor functioning, including:

  • Blindness
  • Paralysis
  • Dystonia
  • Anesthesia
  • Inability to speak
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Incontinence
  • Balance problems
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty walking
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES)

Unfortunately, conversion disorder is frequently overlooked during the initial medical and neurological tests because a conclusive organic diagnosis is lacking. Instead of the symptoms resulting from a physiological effect, they emerge from a psychological conflict.

Diagnosing Conversion Disorder

Conversion disorder is complex and challenging to diagnose. Some ways to thoroughly examine the diagnostic process include performing a complete medical history and physical exam to rule out existing illnesses, running CT and MRI scans to reveal any possible head trauma, or EEG to determine if there is evidence of seizures.

Although no specific cause of conversion disorder exists, social, psychological, and biological factors are relevant when diagnosing a client with conversion disorder. There are also comorbidities to look for when analyzing the condition. The clinician can ask if any of the following social, psychological, and biological factors or comorbidities are present in the client:

Social Factors Associated With Conversion Disorder

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Lives in a rural area
  • Low education level
  • Lives in a developing nation
  • Cultural issues

Psychological Factors to Assess

  • Psychological stress
  • Poor coping skills
  • Internal psychological conflicts

Biological Factors Associated With Conversion Disorder

  • Female gender
  • Young age
  • Impaired cerebral hemisphere communications
  • Excessive cortical arousal

Comorbidities to Consider

  • Mood disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Phobia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Posttraumatic-stress disorder
  • Dissociative disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorder

How to Present a Diagnosis

One of the fundamental approaches for treating clients with conversion disorder is the neurologist’s perceptive and respectful diagnosis presentation. Below are some examples of how to present the diagnosis to clients.

  • Do not inform the client of the diagnosis during the first visit.
  • Reassure the client that their symptoms are authentic despite the absence of a definitive organic disease.
  • Do not give the client the notion that there is nothing wrong with them.
  • Specify socially acceptable examples of conditions that often are considered stress-related, such as hypertension.
  • Provide examples of how the subconscious affects behavior, such as nail-biting.
  • Emphasize that the symptoms are potentially reversible.
  • Clarify that understanding and acknowledging the diagnosis can improve because it allows appropriate engagement with rehabilitation instead of wondering or worrying about what is wrong.

Treatment Methods for Conversion Disorder

Effective treatment methods and coping skills can cure conversion disorder. If you or a loved one are suffering severe or persistent symptoms of conversion disorder, treatment may be necessary. A substantial amount of focus for treatment is on rewiring the brain. Below are some of the standard treatment methods for conversion disorder.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, hypnosis, biofeedback, and relaxation therapy, have been found to help clients with conversion disorder identify triggers and symptoms and learn coping skills to manage and treat the condition.

Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy

Physical therapy or occupational therapy is often used to help with the client’s movement symptoms, including problems with coordination, balance, walking, or weak limbs. It can also effectively prevent secondary complications such as muscle weakness and stiffness.

Medication

The use of antidepressants, anxiolytics, and other psychiatric medications is necessary and helpful for treating underlying stress or anxiety causing the symptoms of conversion disorder.

Seeking Help for Conversion Disorder

Without treatment, conversion disorder can cause problems through underlying stressful situations. The first step is identifying conversion disorder correctly. Some may panic because nothing physical is wrong, but staying calm can ease the symptoms.

If you believe you are struggling with conversion disorder, reach out to your primary care provider for help. In addition, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to help find mental health services in your area.

Crownview Co-Occurring Institute offers specific dual diagnosis treatment for conversion disorder and the co-occurring disorders that typically accompany the symptoms. We understand the critical significance of treating all facets of psychiatric disorders. If you or a loved one are ready to begin your journey to recovery, we want to help you and your mental health. Crownview Co-Occurring Institute in Oceanside, CA, provides a thorough treatment plan to ensure clients are treated for the correct psychological struggles causing the symptoms. At CCI, we offer treatment plans to meet the physical and emotional needs for recovery. We will encourage you throughout the treatment process, from crisis to independence, by providing a stimulating environment with a dedicated team of compassionate professionals ready to support you in gaining control of your life again. Call 760.433.4357 today to learn about our effective treatment programs.

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