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A conversion reaction, or disorder, is when a person experiences a psychological reaction through a physical symptom. It used to be referred to as hysteria but has since been changed to the DSM diagnosis of conversion disorder. It was originally thought to only affect women, but it is now known that men can develop the disorder as well.
The person who has conversion disorder usually presents with a physical symptom that doctors cannot explain since there appears to be no physical cause. Most of the time, the symptoms are neurological in nature like loss of sensation in an arm or leg, faintness or vision problems.
The disorder is often seen in people who have experienced a significant psychological trauma such as war, abuse or an assault. The person has marked anxiety from the trauma and may find the feelings that accompany such a trauma are unacceptable. Because of the refusal to accept the feelings, the person may instead turn the anxiety into a more socially acceptable physical disorder. The person is unaware of the conversion and may feel they do indeed have a physical issue.
The best way to treat conversion disorder is through therapy and possibly hypnosis (if the original cause of the anxiety is repressed) but only after all tests have been completed to be sure the person is not suffering from a physical disorder. Therapy can help the person talk about their anxiety, and develop coping skills in order to reduce or eliminate the symptoms. Therapy can also help the person understand anxiety and the way they handle stress so they can recognize the signs in the future and seek help.
Medications can also help initially to take the edge off the anxiety until therapy can begin to help. Relaxation techniques and support also can play a part in helping the person learn to cope with stress and find ways to address their anxiety so the disorder does not occur again.