Psychological Non Epileptic Seizures
Northeast Regional Epilepsy Group

Are there just two kinds of trauma we should be looking for in psychogenic non epileptic seizures?

I had a discussion some months back with a colleague who insisted that the only types of trauma that can bring about something as serious as a psychogenic non epileptic disorder (conversion disorder) are physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood.

I disagree.  Over the past few years, my patients with psychogenic seizures have been educating me about other kinds of powerful trauma and how these could also play a role in PNES.  Trauma such as, the murder of a child, a motor vehicle accident in childhood that required 10+ surgeries, severe bullying that went on for years, experiences in foster care (not sexual or physical in nature), and witnessing the slow death of a parent from cancer.

As mental health professionals, if we only ask: were you physically or sexually abused as a child and leave it at that when the patient responds “no” we could miss a world of experiences.  As professionals, we need to be open and allow our patients to teach us about themselves.

As patients, if your doctor just asks the two standard questions and moves on when there are other important things left unsaid, I would encourage you to speak up.  You don’t need to make your painful disclosure directly. You can say to your doctor that there are other important events that have not yet been discussed in the interview.  This will give your doctor an indication that he/she needs to explore more.  The more your mental health professional knows about what you have been through, the clearer the direction for treatment.  And remember, no one knows you and what you have been through as well as you do so feel free to educate your therapist.

10 Responses to “Are there just two kinds of trauma we should be looking for in psychogenic non epileptic seizures?”

  1. Cindy says:

    I am so glad to see this story. It is about time someone recognizes this. My son has a number of health problems, including epilepsy, diabetes, tourette syndrome, and non-epileptic seizures. When he was about three years old he had a lot of tests and was quite traumatized about it. I took him to a pediatric psychologist, and it was remarkable watching him, in play, reinact some of the procedures with a doll. It was really sad to see your child hurt, not just physically but also mentally. It is my belief that this is what triggered his non-epileptic seizures. Thanks for writing this. It is greatly appreciated.

  2. mummsy says:

    hi, I did not realise that pnes site was run by a professional,I an on the conversion disorder site and also on NEAD in England.
    its really great to hear a medical person clued up on this condition,
    quite luckerly as my 1st physiologist, whom did not no a bean about the condition retired and my new younger one is very clue up, she has seem me having a seizure in a session, no panic, just calm.
    I was never abused as a child ,that I can remember, physically and mentally in a marriage, my trauma is little things which have built up over 50+ years and have never been dealt with

    • Lorna Myers says:

      Welcome to the blog and I invite you to check in regularly. Also let me know any siggestions you may have about future blog posts or discussions.

  3. Stephanie Wells says:

    I began having what I have been told are “focal” seizures in my left leg back in 1993. At the time I had no idea what they were. I just lost control of my left leg and it spasmed out of control for several seconds, then would repeat througout the day. It would start and stop. Then out of the blue, laying in bed watching tv, I had a grand mal seizures. Tests were run, nothing showed up. Each EEG turned out to be normal. I have noticed throughout the years that stress is a trigger for my seizures, but then again they can occur out of the blue. I have also developed a panic disorder and I have been on several different medications throughout the years..and would absolutely love to get off of them. I stumbled across this site and was intrigued that no one had ever told me about these types of seizures. Just wanted to say thank you for this education! Many doctors just want to stick you on medication and forget about you. Very interesting information.

  4. Lorna Myers says:

    Thank you, Stephanie, for your kind words and wish you the best

  5. Samantha says:

    I find PNES interesting. I only have epilepsy. I am however totally blind also.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I’ve was just diagnosed with PNES 5 months ago. I was being treated for epilepsy for over 6 years. My trauma was neither physical or sexual abuse as a child. My first episode happened when I was 19- a year after my family lost our home and family business.

    • Michelle Scott says:

      My 19 year old son was recently diagnosed with PNES after taking an Army Physical Training test. He stated he didnt feel well before the test (migraine) and was feeling anxious about failing the test. He completed the test and went right into his first PNES. On scene it was said to be a seizure and then PNES.

  7. Michelle Scott says:

    My 19 year old son was recently diagnosed with PNES after taking an Army Physical Training test. He stated he didnt feel well before the test (migraine) and was feeling anxious about failing the test. He completed the test and went right into his first PNES. On scene it was said to be a seizure and then PNES. Could the test and stress of college life, and life choices be enough to trigger this or should we look for more? Thanks Michelle , worried Mother

Leave a Reply