Health care practitioners' perceptions of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures: A systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies

Epilepsia. 2018 Jun;59(6):1109-1123. doi: 10.1111/epi.14189. Epub 2018 May 11.


A recent systematic synthesis of qualitative research demonstrated that patients with psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) often experience unsatisfactory encounters with health care practitioners (HCPs). It is important to understand such interactions from the perspective of those responsible for delivering care. This systematic review aimed to examine the attitudes and perceptions of HCPs toward PNES. A systematic search of 3 databases (Web of Science, PubMed, and CINAHL) was conducted in November 2017. Studies from around the world published after 1997 using qualitative or quantitative methodologies were reviewed. An interpretative stance was taken to analyze the data utilizing a grounded theory approach. The quality of studies included was assessed using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. Overall, 30 separate studies capturing the views of at least 3900 professionals were included. Five concepts emerged from the analysis: (1) HCPs' responses demonstrated uncertainty about many aspects of PNES, including diagnosis and treatment; (2) HCPs understood PNES in dualistic terms, perceiving the condition as largely associated with psychological factors; (3) Patients with PNES were considered challenging and frustrating; (4) HCPs held mixed or contested views about who is responsible for treating patients with PNES; and (5) PNES was viewed as less severe or disabling than epilepsy and associated with a greater degree of volition. Although some HCPs have an excellent understanding of PNES, the views of many give rise to concern. The number of qualitative studies that directly ask HCPs about their perceptions of PNES is limited. Moreover, some professional groups (ie, mental health specialists) are underrepresented in current research. This study reveals a demand for additional training. However, effort is needed also to change the attitudes of some practitioners toward PNES.

Keywords: dissociative seizures; health care professionals; nonepileptic attack disorder; nonepileptic seizures; qualitative.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Conversion Disorder / complications
  • Databases, Bibliographic
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Perception*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / complications
  • Seizures / etiology
  • Seizures / psychology*
  • Somatoform Disorders / complications