Mindfulness-based therapy for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures

Epilepsy Behav. 2020 Feb;103(Pt A):106534. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2019.106534. Epub 2019 Oct 31.


Background: Mindfulness-based therapies (MBTs) are effective in many neuropsychiatric disorders, and represent a potential therapeutic strategy for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES).

Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate the clinical effect of a manualized 12-session MBT for PNES in an uncontrolled trial. We hypothesized reductions in PNES frequency, intensity, and duration, and improvements in quality of life and psychiatric symptom severity at treatment completion.

Methods: Between August 2014 and February 2018, 49 patients with documented PNES (with video electroencephalography [EEG]) were recruited at Brigham and Women's Hospital to participate in the MBT for PNES treatment study. Baseline demographic and clinical information and self-rating scales were obtained during the diagnostic evaluation (T0). Baseline PNES frequency, intensity, and duration were collected at the first follow-up postdiagnosis (T1). Frequency was obtained at each subsequent MBT session and analyzed over time with median regression analysis. Outcomes for other measures were collected at the last MBT session (T3), and compared to baseline measures using linear mixed models.

Results: Twenty-six patients completed the 12-session MBT program and were included in the analysis. Median PNES frequency decreased by 0.12 events/week on average with each successive MBT session (p = 0.002). At session 12, 70% of participants endorsed a reduction in PNES frequency of at least 50%. Freedom from PNES was reported by 50% of participants by treatment conclusion. Seventy percent reported a 50% reduction in frequency from baseline and 50% reported remission at session 12. By treatment end, PNES intensity decreased (p = 0.012) and quality of life improved (p = 0.002). Event duration and psychiatric symptom severity were lower after treatment, but reductions were not statistically significant.

Conclusions: Completion of a manualized 12-session MBT for PNES provides improvement in PNES frequency, intensity, and quality of life. The high dropout rate is consistent with adherence studies in PNES. Possible reasons for dropout are discussed. Randomized controlled trials and longer-term outcomes are needed to demonstrate the efficacy of MBT in PNES.

Keywords: Functional neurological disorder; Mindfulness; Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures; Psychotherapy; Trial.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / therapy*
  • Quality of Life
  • Seizures / diagnosis
  • Seizures / psychology
  • Seizures / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult