Teen conversion disorder is characterized by disabling physical symptoms (paralysis, blindness, and other forms of sensory shutdown) that do not have an obvious physical cause. Conversion disorder usually occurs after a traumatic experience and persists as a form of disability without injury – picture taking a serious fall and struggling to walk despite not having any physical injuries. In teens with conversion disorder, the stress from such an event causes them to experience neurological problems.
Traumatic event – the most common cause for a teen conversion disorder is the trigger for it – a very stressful or traumatic event that causes a teen to exhibit psychosomatic symptoms. However, the exact mechanism behind why a teen may experience conversion disorder is often varied and depends on the individual, with many concurrent factors making an exact cause difficult to ascertain.
Other neurological problems – it’s shown that a major risk factor for developing teen conversion disorder is one or more existing neurological problems, including seizures, epilepsy, or chronic migraines.
Genetics – as with many other health issues, genes do play a role in increasing the risk factor. Teens with a family history of neurological issues – especially somatic disorders – are more likely to experience conversion disorder after a traumatic event.
of patients in a general hospital setting have individual symptoms suggesting conversion disorder
of these patients have the full-blown disorder
of general hospital patients are diagnosed with conversion disorder
Take every symptom seriously – the last thing you should do is delegitimize your teen’s symptoms because “it’s all in your head”. Regardless of how it may look to an outsider, to the person experiencing the disorder, the symptoms are as real as can be. Instead of pushing your teen to “realize” that they’re “imagining things”, encourage your teen to visit a medical professional and make sure that the origin of their symptoms is psychological, and not physical.
Remind them (and yourself) that recovery is possible – conversion therapy can be treated in most cases, and teens often make a full recovery. Even in cases where it becomes a chronic issue, staying in touch with a mental health professional and starting treatment early on can help teens continue to lead normal lives and combat symptoms whenever they may appear.
Encourage treatment – the longer a disorder is left ignored, usually the worse it gets. Encourage your teen to get the help they need, and support them if they feel something is off, or if they’re worried about unusual physical issues and want to visit a doctor. Teens will usually want to figure out what’s going on with them – all you need to do is encourage them to find out, and get the right help.
For teen conversion disorder treatment, the first step involves seeing a physician, who can rule out any organic causes for the physical symptoms. Once all possible physical causes are ruled out, teens can then seek treatment from a therapist, with conversion disorder being a possible diagnosis.
Depending on a teen’s symptoms, therapists may recommend medication, especially in helping treat any symptoms of depression and anxiety which the teen may be experiencing. Antidepressants are likely going to be a doctor’s first choice, as they usually present the least amount of risk and produce some of the best results in easing symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, there are no medications that effectively treat functional neurological disorders. Instead, medication would be used to help control other symptoms, or aid in the process of a certain psychotherapy.
Teen conversion disorder treatment entails a number of different approaches within the scope of talk therapy. Therapists working with teens to help them first understand that their symptoms aren’t related to a physical illness, and then work with them to address the initial traumatic event or experience which led to these symptoms.
Especially at first, teens can feel confused about the symptoms they’re experiencing, as well as confused about how the symptoms are connected to the original traumatic event. It’s important for teens to understand that they’re not making up or imagining these symptoms, and furthermore, they shouldn’t just try to ignore them until they go away. The connections we experience between our mental and physical health are strong and this illness manifests itself with regard to this connection.
Therapists address the initial traumatic event with the teens, and by doing so, recognize specific stressors that may be leading to physical symptoms. They also teach teens healthy ways of dealing with stress and conflict, as well as behaviors that help contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle. Some of these techniques might include things like meditation, imaging, breathing exercises, and yoga.
There are plenty of alternative therapies for the treatment of conversion disorder, other than various forms of talk therapy. Effective forms of therapy for conversion disorder include speech therapy, hypnotherapy, stress reduction techniques, and physical therapy. Helping a patient regain control over their body and address other stressful possible symptoms and disorders – such as depressive symptoms or anxiety disorders – can help reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of conversion disorder.
Speech therapy can help a patient regain control over their speaking and swallowing, while stress reduction and hypnosis help them better tackle the aftermath of their trauma or come to terms with the event that may have triggered the disorder to begin with.
The process for treating teen conversion disorder is highly individual. The idea that the mind drastically influences the body is ancient, but the exact way in which certain symptoms can manifest through stress and trauma is not completely understood and may differ from person to person.
Treatment centers on helping teens cope with various aspects of the disorder, tackling it holistically alongside any other issues the teen may be having. Because conversion disorder is triggered by a form of psychological trauma, it’s ultimately key to figure out not only how a single episode might have occurred, but how things should change in order to help the teen with these issues moving forward.
Living with Experts
Paradigm Malibu’s locations are each manned by a staff of experts, dedicated to helping teens feel welcome and explore their mental health, emotional state, and near future. Teenage years are often a very delicate time in a person’s life, and taking a reprise from home to work with psychiatrists and therapists is not only going to help your teen through their disorder, but it may help them sort out other issues, many of which often contribute to the severity and nature of most mental health problems.
A Place in Nature
Paradigm Malibu’s locations are designed to work as beautiful temporary homes and treatment facilities at the same time. Each location is set in nature, with an open outdoor space and plenty of amenities for teens to explore their hobbies and spend time having fun. Fun, in the sense that it helps teens relieve stress and express themselves emotionally and creatively, is key to therapy.
It’s important for teens to find different ways to express themselves and define their abilities and talents. Sometimes, finding out you’re very good at something can provide a path forward in an uncertain time. Furthermore, being set in nature gives teens the benefit of decreasing overall anxiety and depressive thoughts and helping them feel calmer.
This place literally saved my life. The staff is incredibly dedicated and loving. They were extremely supportive and welcoming of me. Thank you so much for all you have done for me.
– Katrine R.
What are the chances of a teenager’s recovery?
The prognosis for teenagers with teen conversion disorder is very good, meaning recovery from both the physical symptoms being experienced as well as progress toward alleviating stress from the original traumatic incident is very likely. While conversion disorder is as scary as can be at first, once a patient learns to realize that their symptoms are somatic and not caused by any physical injury, they can begin to work on unraveling the effects of the initial event and move past it in a healthy way.
We in no shape or form mean to underestimate or belittle the dire experiences that often accompany conversion disorder, and symptoms like blindness and paralysis are terrifying even when they do not have a physical origin. Through proper treatment, teens can make a full recovery from these symptoms, and lead normal lives again.
What differentiates psychosomatic symptoms from other physical ones?
The central nervous system – including the brain, spine, and nerves – is responsible for every action in the body, and without it, we cannot live or function. Injury or damage to critical parts of this nervous system can lead to severe consequences and changes in living, including certain forms of disability. However, the mind itself can also affect the CNS and change the way we perceive the world, to the point of causing a loss in one or more senses or losing feeling and control over a limb. As advanced as medicine has become, there are many mysteries left to explore in the human body, and completely understanding how and why stress can cause disability is one such mystery.
One of the difficulties around this particular disorder is that there are many factors and contributing issues. Sometimes, temporary paralysis is caused by another disease, a virus, an infection, or a genetic issue in the muscle membrane. When a physical origin cannot be identified at first, one might present itself later. Or, the issue is psychosomatic in origin, but the exact cause is unclear – and it’s not well understood why some people develop conversion disorder, and others do not, beyond a number of possible risk factors including genetics and stress.
With time, a better understanding of this disorder and many other mental health issues may lead to better discoveries in the way of treatment and care. But as of today, treatments have already come far enough to manage, reduce, and even eliminate symptoms of conversion disorder, and many other mental health problems.