What is Conversion Disorder? Is It Harmful?

Conversion disorder is a mental illness in which patients have neurological symptoms but no medical cause. This is different from somatization, which is the conversion of psychological distress into physical symptoms. Typically, people with this disorder experience neurological problems such as seizures, paralysis, and blindness that are not explained by any injuries or other medical conditions.

What is Conversion Disorder?

Conversion is, in fact, a psychological defense mechanism. Defense mechanisms aim to protect our mental structure from the negative consequences (such as anxiety) of our internal conflicts. Defense mechanisms are unconscious processes, so we use these defenses, but we are not aware of this. On the other hand, there may be some negative consequences. But these results are easier to handle than others because they are less harmful than actual mental conflicts.

What is Conversion Disorder?

A psychiatric term used in some psychiatric classification schemes is conversion disorder (CD), or functional neurologic symptom disorder. It is often used in patients with neurological manifestations such as numbness, blindness, paralysis, or fits that are incompatible with a well-established organic cause that induces severe anxiety that can be traced back to a psychiatric cause.

conversion disorder
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In the defense mechanism of conversion, neurological symptoms occur in an individual exposed to a psychosocial stress factor. However, in fact, there is no neurological disease in the individual that will cause this neurological symptom. For example, a woman who often gets insulted by her husband starts to try to cope with this problem. In fact, what is happening here is that these bad words cause serious harm to the self, making her feel worthless and helpless.

The patient escapes from the negative mood created by this situation by fainting, temporarily losing consciousness. From this perspective, fainting may sound bad, but it has a protective function by preventing further psychological harm.

One important point to know about conversion is that the individual doesn’t do it intentionally. This is a process that operates completely unconsciously, it develops beyond the conscious control of the person.

Is It Harmful?

Conversion disorder is the case where this defense mechanism is used frequently and its consequences become more problematic. The quality of life and functionality of a person who faints five times a day will, of course, be impaired. In this case, this mechanism, which is actually protective up to a point, becomes a disease. The symptoms of conversion disorder are very diverse, may be related to any neurological function. For example, blindness, deafness, inability to speak, inability to walk, contractions in the muscles, etc.

Almost every case of conversion disorder has a visible psychosocial stress factor. This unfavorable life event may have been a long time ago, but the effects may still be experienced or maybe a new situation or a new situation.


Conversion disorder begins with a stressor, trauma, or mental discomfort. The physical symptoms of the condition usually impact the senses or movement. Blindness, limb or bodily function loss, paralysis, inability to speak, deafness, numbness, difficulty swallowing, incontinence, dizziness, and balance issues are all potential symptoms. It is a neurological condition characterized by symptoms that are unexplained by any other disease or medical diagnosis. The disorder can occur when no physiological cause for the problems can be found. Conversion disorder typically develops suddenly and without warning. It affects between 0.011 percent and 0.5 percent of the general population and is most common among people aged 10 to 35 years old.

Conversion disorder can present with motor or sensory symptoms including any of the following:

Motor symptoms or deficits:

  • Impaired coordination or balance
  • Weakness/paralysis of a limb or the entire body
  • Impairment or loss of speech
  • Difficulty swallowing or a sensation of a lump in the throat
  • Urinary retention
  • Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures or convulsions
  • Persistent dystonia
  • Tremor, myoclonus, or other movement disorders
  • Gait problems
  • Fainting

Sensory symptoms or deficits:

  • Hysterical blindness, double vision
  • Deafness)
  • Loss or disturbance of touch

Conversion symptoms, on the other hand, seldom follow well-known anatomical pathways and physiological mechanisms. The idea that the presenting symptoms are often a reflection of the patient’s own understanding of anatomy has been advanced, with people with limited medical knowledge having more implausible presenting symptoms. However, this statement has yet to be validated.

Difficulties and Treatment

what is conversion disorder? is it harmful? 1
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There are a number of various treatment choices for conversion syndrome. Hypnosis, psychotherapy, physical therapy, stress management, and transcranial magnetic stimulation are all methods used to treat conversion syndrome. Treatment strategies will consider the length of time and symptoms’ appearance and may include one or more of the aforementioned therapies. The following are some examples:

  • Occupational therapy is used to help individuals who have lost the ability to perform basic activities of daily living by keeping them active and engaged in their environment.
  • Physiotherapy can be used if it is beneficial to the patient.
  • Treatment of comorbid depression or anxiety, if necessary.

Educating patients on the basis of their symptoms might assist them in learning how to manage both the mental and physical aspects of their condition. Given the established link between conversion disorder and emotional trauma, psychological therapy is often indicated. This approach is usually carried out in conjunction with other therapies.

Psychotherapy is the only treatment for conversion disorder. Drugs have no place in the treatment, but if there are additional problems such as depressive disorder and anxiety disorder that develop later, drug treatment can be used. Also, psychodynamic-oriented psychotherapy and supportive psychotherapy can treat the disease. Depending on the stress factor, it may be necessary to use a couple or family therapies.

Conversion disorder receives little scientific attention. Cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, EMDR, and psychodynamic psychotherapy are only a few of the other therapeutic options that need further research. It’s possible that psychoanalytic therapy might aid you. However, most research on the effectiveness of these therapies is of poor quality, and further, better-controlled research is required. CBT is the most popular therapy, with a 13% success rate.

If you want to learn more about general psychology and mental disorders, you can check here.

Last Updated on December 11, 2022 by Lucas Berg


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