Skip to main content Accessibility help



  • Access
  • Cited by 2


      • Send article to Kindle

        To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

        Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

        Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

        Psychotherapy for severe somatoform disorder: problems with missing studies
        Available formats

        Send article to Dropbox

        To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

        Psychotherapy for severe somatoform disorder: problems with missing studies
        Available formats

        Send article to Google Drive

        To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

        Psychotherapy for severe somatoform disorder: problems with missing studies
        Available formats
Export citation

The recent review by Koelen and colleagues 1 of psychotherapy for severe somatoform disorder is welcome in highlighting the need for better evidence in this area. It has unfortunately omitted a number of relevant studies, especially relating to conversion disorder. One major reason for this is that the index date on which studies were searched for, March 2010, was nearly 4 years prior to publication. It is a pity that the authors did not update their analysis at the time of their last revision in June 2013, as they would, at this time, have been able to include a number of relevant studies, including a randomised trial of cognitive-behavioural therapy for non-epileptic seizures (n = 66) 2 and a randomised controlled trial of guided self-help for functional neurological symptoms (i.e. conversion disorder) (n = 127). 3 These two studies were published before one of the studies included in the analysis, the study by Sattel et al published in 2012. 4

There are further studies of psychotherapy in conversion disorder which were published before March 2010: a study of psychotherapy for non-epileptic seizures (n = 20); 5 a study of psychotherapy for conversion disorder (n = 91); 6 a study of psychotherapy for psychogenic movement disorders (n = 10); 7 and a large controlled and negative trial of psychotherapy for patients with somatoform disorders in a general hospital (n = 91). 8 The authors may have excluded them but they did not present a list of the 64 excluded studies as a supplemental file.

Other types of study that could arguably have been included using the authors’ own criteria are some randomised trials in functional dysphonia, a form of conversion disorder treated in secondary care with voice therapy and sometimes psychotherapy. 9 There are also treatment studies of children with conversion disorder which have not been included and would not have been excluded by the authors’ inclusion criteria. 10,11

Further studies in conversion disorder have followed in the past 2 years which describe outcomes from multidisciplinary treatment including psychotherapy. 12-15 Journal articles cannot always be up to date, but the number of omissions here make this meta-analysis immediately in need of updating.

Two included studies were of hypnosis for motor conversion disorder. 16,17 Hypnosis is arguably a form of psychotherapy, but also arguably not. In addition, the inclusion of studies which randomised bioenergetic exercise against gym exercise in a setting where all patients received psychotherapy 18 and a study of in-patient multidisciplinary rehabilitation in chronic pain (n = 298) graded as ‘extremely poor’ 19 and then included in a ‘treatment as usual arm’ is debatable.

The authors could have done more to highlight one of the obvious drawbacks of their review. There is a paradox in reporting on treatment for patients who had been defined as having somatoform disorder (often needing only to have three symptoms e.g. pain, fatigue, dizziness or irritable bowel syndrome) while ignoring studies on psychotherapy for individual functional somatic disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia. Most patients with functional somatic disorder also have other symptoms such as fatigue and pain, 20 and probably would, for example, meet criteria for multisomatoform disorder. It is at times highly arbritary whether authors decide, for example, to use the term somatoform pain disorder or chronic pain disorder. A broader overview of studies in all these fields or at least greater acknowledgement of the overlap would have been helpful for the reader.

1 Koelen, JA, Houtveen, JH, Abbass, A, Luyten, P, Eurelings-Bontekoe, EHM, Van Broeckhuysen-Kloth, SAM, et al. Effectiveness of psychotherapy for severe somatoform disorder: meta-analysis. Br J Psychiatry 2014; 204: 12–9.
2 Goldstein, LH, Chalder, T, Chigwedere, C, Khondoker, MR, Moriarty, J, Toone, BK, et al. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for psychogenic nonepileptic seizures: a pilot RCT. Neurology 2010; 74: 1986–94.
3 Sharpe, M, Walker, J, Williams, C, Stone, J, Cavanagh, J, Murray, G, et al. Guided self-help for functional (psychogenic) symptoms: a randomized controlled efficacy trial. Neurology 2011; 77: 564–72.
4 Sattel, H, Lahmann, C, Gündel, H, Guthrie, E, Kruse, J, Noll-Hussong, M, et al. Brief psychodynamic interpersonal psychotherapy for patients with multisomatoform disorder: randomised controlled trial. Br J Psychiatry 2012; 200: 60–7.
5 Goldstein, LH, Deale, AC, Mitchell-O'Malley, SJ, Toone, BK, Mellers, JD. An evaluation of cognitive behavioral therapy as a treatment for dissociative seizures: a pilot study. Cogn Behav Neurol 2004; 17: 41–9.
6 Reuber, M, Burness, C, Howlett, S, Brazier, J, Grunewald, R. Tailored psychotherapy for patients with functional neurological symptoms: a pilot study. J Psychosom Res 2007; 63: 625–32.
7 Hinson, VK, Weinstein, S, Bernard, B, Leurgans, SE, Goetz, CG. Single-blind clinical trial of psychotherapy for treatment of psychogenic movement disorders. Park Disord 2006; 12: 177–80.
8 Schweickhardt, A, Larisch, A, Wirsching, M, Fritzsche, K. Short-term psychotherapeutic interventions for somatizing patients in the general hospital: a randomized controlled study. Psychother Psychosom 2007; 76: 339–46.
9 Ruotsalainen, JH, Sellman, J, Lehto, L, Jauhiainen, M, Verbeek, JH. Interventions for treating functional dysphonia in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2007; 3: CD006373.
10 Turgay, A. Treatment outcome for children and adolescents with conversion disorder. Can J Psychiatry – Rev Can Psychiatr 1990; 35: 585–9.
11 Schwingenschuh, P, Pont-Sunyer, C, Surtees, R, Edwards, MJ, Bhatia, KP. Psychogenic movement disorders in children: a report of 15 cases and a review of the literature. Mov Disord 2008; 23: 1882–8.
12 Aybek, S, Hubschmid, M, Mossinger, C, Berney, A, Vingerhoets, F. Early intervention for conversion disorder: neurologists and psychiatrists working together. Acta Neuropsychiatr 2013; 25: 52–6.
13 McCormack, R, Moriarty, J, Mellers, JD, Shotbolt, P, Pastena, R, Landes, N, et al. Specialist inpatient treatment for severe motor conversion disorder: a retrospective comparative study. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2013; Oct 11. Epub ahead of print.
14 Saifee, TA, Kassavetis, P, Parees, I, Kojovic, M, Fisher, L, Morton, L, et al. Inpatient treatment of functional motor symptoms: a long-term follow-up study. J Neurol 2012; 259: 1958–63.
15 Kompoliti, K, Wilson, B, Stebbins, G, Bernard, B, Hinson, V. Immediate vs. delayed treatment of psychogenic movement disorders with short term psychodynamic psychotherapy: randomized clinical trial. Parkinsonism Relat Disord 2013; pii: S1353-8020(13)00348–9.
16 Moene, FC, Spinhoven, P, Hoogduin, KA, Van Dyck, R. A randomised controlled clinical trial on the additional effect of hypnosis in a comprehensive treatment programme for in-patients with conversion disorder of the motor type. Psychother Psychosom 2002; 71: 6676.
17 Moene, FC, Spinhoven, P, Hoogduin, CA, Van Dyck, R. A randomized controlled clinical trial of a hypnosis-based treatment for patients with conversion disorder, motor type. Int J Clin Exp Hypn 2003; 51: 2950.
18 Nickel, M, Cangoez, B, Bachler, E, Muehlbacher, M, Lojewski, N, Mueller-Rabe, N, et al. Bioenergetic exercises in inpatient treatment of Turkish immigrants with chronic somatoform disorders: a randomized, controlled study. J Psychosom Res 2006; 61: 507–13.
19 Schneider, J, Rief, W. Self-efficacy expectations and therapeutic results in patients with persistent somatoform pain disorder (ICD-10: F45.4) [in German]. Z Klin Psychol Psychother 2007; 36: 4656.
20 Wessely, S, Nimnuan, C, Sharpe, M. Functional somatic syndromes: one or many? Lancet 1999; 354: 936–9.