The problem of psychogenic symptoms: is the psychiatric community in denial?

Epilepsy Behav. 2005 Feb;6(1):9-14. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2004.10.009.


Psychogenic symptoms are common and pose an uncomfortable challenge. Among psychogenic symptoms, psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are common and have been extensively studied. They are unique in that, unlike most other psychogenic symptoms, they can be diagnosed with near certainty. PNES can be used as a model, as almost everything that applies to PNES applies to other psychogenic symptoms. According to DSM-IV, somatic symptoms are the main manifestation of three groups of disorders: somatoform disorders, factitious disorder, and malingering. Treatment is challenging. Unfortunately, psychogenic symptoms tend to be neglected. For example, the American Psychiatric Association has abundant written patient education material available on diverse topics, but none on somatoform disorders. Psychogenic symptoms are also not the subject of much clinical research. A search of the journal Neurology for 1994-2003 for the word psychogenic in the title found 21 articles, only 4 of which on topics other than psychogenic seizures. A similar search for original articles in the New England Journal of Medicine found no articles with psychogenic in the title and two with psychogenic in the abstract. Thus, there seems to be a severe disconnect between the frequency of the problem and the amount of attention devoted to it.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Denial, Psychological*
  • Humans
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / therapy
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Seizures / diagnosis*
  • Seizures / psychology*
  • Seizures / therapy
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology
  • Somatoform Disorders / therapy