We all experience what are known as stress-related difficulties in our lives and no one is immune from the pressures that life can sometimes create. These stress-related problems can be expressed in our body in a myriad of ways and disappear once the cause of the stress is removed. Yet for some people, they suffer from persistent pains and unusual sensations in their bodies that don’t seem to make sense and can continue on for many years, despite attempts to find ways to alleviate them.
With the proliferation of complaints that permeate our society today and search for new meanings and terms that signify them (think irritable bowel syndrome and other stress related terms that have come into existence in recent times), the need to make conversion symptoms into a pseudo medical diagnosis and to try to make a universal meaning of it continues on to this day.
Yet, despite the many diverse treatments that are available for these seemingly organic problems of the body that cause the individual discomfort, the unexplainable pains still persist, seemingly untreatable by medical or non-psychotherapeutic approaches.
What Are Conversion Symptoms?
Conversion symptoms consist in the transposition of an intra-psychical conflict into, and its attempted resolution through, somatic symptoms, which may be either of a motor nature (e.g. paralyses of motor functions in different part of the body) or a sensory one (e.g. localized pains emanating from particular parts of the body).
What specifies conversion symptoms is their symbolic or metaphorical meaning: they are the expression of an idea or a group of ideas through the medium of the body that aren’t admissible to consciousness. These symptoms play the role of language in which repression can be expressed and find some form of discharge in the body without being directly accessible to consciousness.
This makes these pains and sensations in the body seemingly nonsensical and frustrating to the sufferer because no visible organic basis can be detected. Yet the pains and uncomfortable sensations are real and they can cause immeasurable difficulties and suffering.
The unknown meaning or meanings of the conversion symptoms, although the range of these symptoms appears in all people and in all cultures, are highly specific to the individual. Hence, the meanings of these symptoms cannot be thought of as type of knowledge in an intellectual sense of the word that can be applied across the board to everyone, ‘a one-shoe fits all’ meaning that helps everyone who suffers from the conversion symptoms.
The conversion symptoms need to be worked-through and brought into speech through the psychotherapeutic process on an individual, one by one basis. Through this process, the individual can find a place for this pain in their lives in a way in which allows for the symptoms to dissipate and to use that energy in a productive and less inhibiting way.
Some Expressions of Conversion Symptoms
Although conversion or psychosomatic symptoms can be expressed in the body in a myriad of ways, some of the expressions we see in the clinic are but are not limited to:
- Persistent headaches with no organic basis
- Gastrointestinal pains and difficulties in the gastrointestinal tract
- Chest pains, strange sensations and tightness in the chest without an organic basis
- Uncomfortable and persistence burning sensations in different parts of the body
- Different forms of paralysis or decreased motor function in different areas of the body
- Erectile Dysfunction
These are just some of the manifestations of pain and uncomfortable sensations in the body that have no direct organic cause and yet can cause the sufferer many difficulties in their life.
Help is Available
It is important is always consult a medical physician if you are or have experienced any of these problems and the problems are still persisting. If no direct organic basis for these problems has been detected or medical treatment hasn’t helped, counselling and psychotherapy for conversion and somatic issues is a highly effective treatment and can greatly alleviate the burden that these issues have caused.
If you or someone you might know might be suffering from these complaints, there is professional help available.
Psychosomatic Counselling Melbourne
Paul Reid – Counselling & Psychotherapy