Conversion disorder and/or functional neurological disorder: How neurological explanations affect ideas of self, agency, and accountability

Jonna Brenninkmeijer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
107 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

An estimated 15% of patients seen by neurologists have neurological symptoms, such as paralysis, tremors, dystonia, or seizures, that cannot be medically explained. For a long time, such patients were diagnosed as having conversion disorder (CD) and referred to psychiatrists, but for the last two decades or so, neurologists have started to pay more serious attention to this patient group. Instead of maintaining the commonly used label of conversion disorder – which refers to Freud’s idea that traumatic events can be converted into deviant behaviour – these neurologists use the term functional neurological disorder (FND) and explain that the problems are due to abnormal central nervous system functioning. The situation that some patients with medically unexplained neurological symptoms are diagnosed with CD and treated by psychiatrists while others are diagnosed with FND and stay under the control of neurologists provides a unique case for analysing how neurological and psychological explanations affect subjectivity. In this article, I compare patient reports from English-language websites from the past 15 years to find out how minds, bodies, brains, and selves act and interact in the accounts of both patient groups. I conclude that the change in label from CD to FND has not only influenced ideas of medically unexplained disorders, but also affected ideas of the self and the body; of self-control and accountability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-84
Number of pages21
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Volume33
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1-Dec-2020

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