Conversion reaction is a mental illness that causes bodily symptoms, including pain. The symptoms that exist cannot be traced to a medical condition nor are they the result of substance abuse or another mental illness.
Conversion reaction is an outdated term for what was subsequently labeled somatoform disorder. The term conversion reaction was itself an update; Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) originally called the disorder conversion hysteria. Freud believed there was a direct correspondence between a repressed emotional problem and its expression in a physiological form.
Conversion reaction is actually rare, but it has garnered a great deal of attention due to its dramatic nature. Conversion reaction only accounts for approximately 2% of all psychiatric diagnoses and usually first appears during adolescence or early adulthood, generally when a person is under severe stress. Symptoms of this disease are both specific and severe, such as intense headaches or paralysis of a hand and generally interfere with daily activities. Theories of why conversion disorders exist differ widely.
A conversion disorder may serve as a way for individuals to avoid activities or situations associated with a source of emotional conflict. These persons may, through their attention to physical pain, be able to shut down conscious awareness of the conflict itself. Some theorists believe in the concept of secondary gain; through a conversion reaction individuals may garner the attention, sympathy, and support that they need but are unable to obtain otherwise.
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