Teen Conversion Disorder: A Physical Disease with A Non-Physical Explanation

Conversion Disorder is one of those illness that makes psychologists scratch their heads. It’s neurological symptoms such as numbness, blindness, or paralysis don’t have any known psychological or medical causes. For instance, let’s say you’re riding a horse and you fall. After the fall, you experience paralysis in your legs, even though there was no physical injury after the event. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies Conversion Disorder as a Somatoform Disorder, meaning it’s an illness that has neurological roots but its symptoms are expressed through the body.


Interestingly, the term, conversion, was first used by Sigmund Freud, who believed that intense internal conflicts were converted into physical symptoms. A teen with conversion disorder converts the psychological or neurological imbalance into physical symptoms.


As indicated above, this disorder can at times be associated with stressful events. For instance, if you’ve recently experienced a loss or trauma, or even if the amount of stress in your life is high, it would be rare that you experience the symptoms below. However, if you did, it is a sign that you might be developing Conversion Disorder. At the same time, it is often difficult to assign a cause to the symptoms of Conversion Disorder. What characterizes Conversion Disorder is that its symptoms are not caused by any other biological reason, such as a physical illness.


Common symptoms include:

  • Impaired coordination or balance
  • Weakness or paralysis in parts or all of the body
  • Impaired speech
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fainting
  • Loss of a sense of touch
  • Tingling in arms and legs


Other triggers may be intense emotional conflict and the presence of other emotional/mental health disorders, such as depression.


Conversion disorder presents in two to six women for every man. It’s very rare in children under 10, as well as the elderly. Some clinicians say that diagnosing teen Conversion Disorder is pure common sense in that it only requires a process of elimination. However, in order to properly diagnose an adolescent with this disorder, a clinician would need to rule out any neurological or medical causes. Also, it would have to be clear that a teen is not pretending to be affected by the above symptoms. Pretending to be affected by symptoms is known as feigning. This disorder is unique in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in that it requires the exclusion of any deliberate feigning. Because this disorder comes with some unusual symptoms, it can be difficult to identity at times.


In fact, not being able to recognize the disorder has inhibited knowing the frequency of the illness among teens and adults. Nonetheless, it is rare that a teen is diagnosed with this disorder. In fact, Conversion Disorder can be present in individuals at any age; however, it is even more rare in children under 10 years of age or in the elderly. Research shows that there is an increase in the appearance of this diagnosis for those who are in their mid to late 30’s.


There are a variety of different treatment options for teen Conversion Disorder. Occasionally, the symptoms will disappear on their own. However, if treatment is needed, methods include hypnosis, psychotherapy, physical therapy, stress management, or a combination of these.  If you feel that your levels of stress are increasing and you’re seeing the above symptoms in yourself, seeking mental health assistance is the next best step.