Non-epileptic seizures and child sexual abuse: a critical review of the literature

Clin Psychol Rev. 2006 Dec;26(8):1020-40. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2005.11.011. Epub 2006 Feb 10.


Non-epileptic seizures have received a substantial amount of attention in the psychiatric and medical literature, but comparatively little attention from psychologists. Non-epileptic seizures resemble epileptic seizures but lack the physiological symptoms of genuine epilepsy and are psychological in origin. Many authors have emphasized the role that child sexual abuse may play in the etiology of this disorder. In the present paper, we provide a review of 34 studies examining this relationship, followed by a meta-analysis of 19 effect sizes. While our statistical results support the professed link between child sexual abuse and non-epileptic seizures, we suggest that because of research design limitations, it is premature to draw any definitive conclusions regarding a relationship. Eight of these research design limitations are identified and discussed (e.g., the absence of comparison groups; an explicit and public definition of child sexual abuse). Alternatives to a traditional psychoanalytic perspective that emphasizes the role of child sexual abuse in the etiology of NES are presented. Specific recommendations for future research are made and psychologists are strongly encouraged to play a more active role in both researching and treating non-epileptic seizures.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Seizures / epidemiology*