For 14 years, ever since I first met my first patient diagnosed with PNES, I have known that PNES falls clearly within the scope of practice of psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists. These are the professionals who should be working with this group of patients and who can help them. A major obstacle however is that many of these professionals don’t “know” that they are the best prepared to work with this population because they don’t know enough about PNES. It’s important that we identify this obstacle so that we can begin to fix it. How do we do that? We need to offer training sessions for mental health professionals on what PNES is and how it can be treated.
On November 6, 2015 a group of dedicated Argentinian mental health professionals gathered for a five hour workshop at INECO (the Institute of Cognitive Neurology) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Audience members reported working with victims of torture, veterans of the Malvinas (Falklands) war, and other varied forms of trauma.
The main themes of the day were PTSD and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES). The goal was to learn: 1) what psychogenic seizures are, 2) why is it so hard to diagnose them properly and in a timely manner and what is the gold standard for diagnosis? 3) what additional psychiatric problems should the clinician be looking out for, and 4) what treatments have been shown to be effective so far through research. The audience heard from experts in epilepsy (Dr. Alfredo Thomson) as well as specialists in prolonged exposure therapy (Drs. Rafael Kichik and Lorna Myers -myself), EMDR (Lic. Rubén Lescano) and DBT (Dr. Pablo Gagliesi and Dr. Ulises Ramirez). Near the end of the session, select cases were presented for the purpose of educating the audience on how prolonged exposure therapy (PET) can prove to be an effective form of treatment for those with PNES/PTSD.
We finished the workshop at 9:30 PM (having run over by 30 minutes) feeling very energized despite the late hour. Just days later, we have been sending emails back and forth so as to not lose the momentum in figuring out concrete ways to collaborate professionally. Our goal is that patients with PNES in Argentina are on their way to experiencing substantially improved treatment options.