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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

Treatment

There is no single best treatment for a conversion disorder. A physician is likely to be supportive and reassuring and will adjust treatment goals to the specific situation. Most physicians will explain the limits of what physical examination and testing was able to show about the symptoms. They try to avoid confronting the individual with the idea that the symptoms are "false," because the symptoms are usually distressing and not within the person's control. It is helpful to avoid overly intrusive, uncomfortable medical testing, while continuing to monitor the symptoms.

Symptoms sometimes go away on their own after stress has been reduced, conflict has been resolved or the family or community has responded with a show of concern and support.

If symptoms do not improve relatively quickly, more vigorous rehabilitation may be required. Physical or occupational therapy can be helpful.

Psychotherapy can provide relief although there is no evidence that one type of therapy is more effective than another. Many therapists will focus on encouragement and motivational interviewing, with the aim of improving functioning. If the source of conflict or stress can be determined, it may be helpful to gain insight into what triggered the symptoms. For example, the person may be in conflict about leaving home, starting a new job or having a first child. In psychotherapy, the person may either learn to deal with the conflict or retreat from the source of distress. In either case, the physical symptoms may stop. Functioning remains a higher priority than insight.

As with psychotherapy, there is no single medication that is best for this disorder. Medication may be helpful to treat an underlying problem with anxiety or depression.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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