Psychological and psychiatric aspects of psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES): A systematic review

Richard Brown, M. Reuber

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) are common in neurological settings and often associated with considerable distress and disability. The psychological mechanisms underlying PNES are poorly understood and there is a lack of well-established, evidence-based treatments. This paper advances our understanding of PNES by providing a comprehensive systematic review of the evidence pertaining to the main theoretical models of this phenomenon. Methodological quality appraisal and effect size calculation were conducted on one hundred forty empirical studies on the following aspects of PNES: life adversity, dissociation, anxiety, suggestibility, attentional dysfunction, family/relationship problems, insecure attachment, defence mechanisms, somatization/conversion, coping, emotion regulation, alexithymia, emotional processing, symptom modelling, learning and expectancy. Although most of the studies were only of low to moderate quality, some findings are sufficiently consistent to warrant tentative conclusions: (i) physical symptom reporting is elevated in patients with PNES; (ii) trait dissociation and exposure to traumatic events are common but not inevitable correlates of PNES; (iii) there is a mismatch between subjective reports of anxiety and physical arousal during PNES; and (iv) inconsistent findings in this area are likely to be attributable to the heterogeneity of patients with PNES. Empirical, theoretical and clinical implications are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157–182
JournalClinical Psychology Review
Early online date16 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


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