Epilepsy Information


Prolonged exposure therapy for the treatment of patients diagnosed with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Authors: Lorna Myers, Marcelo Lancman, Urmi Vaidya-Mathur

Although there is general consensus that psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) are treated with psychotherapy, the effectiveness of most psychotherapeutic modalities remains understudied. In this treatment series of 16 patients dually diagnosed with PNES and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we evaluated the effect of prolonged exposure therapy (PE) on reduction of PNES. Secondary measures included Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II) and Post-Traumatic Disorder Diagnostic Scale (PDS). 


Subjects diagnosed with video EEG-confirmed PNES and PTSD confirmed through neuropsychological testing and clinical interview were treated with traditional PE psychotherapy with certain modifications for the PNES. Treatment was conducted over the course of 12-15 weekly sessions. Seizure frequency was noted in each session by examining the patients' seizure logs, and mood and PTSD symptomatology was assessed at baseline and on the final session. 

Eighteen subjects enrolled, and 16 (88.8%) completed the course of treatment. Thirteen of the 16 (81.25%) therapy completers reported no seizures by their final PE session, and the other three reported a decline in seizure frequency (Z=-3.233, p=0.001). Mean scores on scales of depression (M=-13.56, SD=12.27; t (15)=-4.420, p<0,001) and PTSD symptoms (M=-17.1875, SD=13.01; t (15)=-5.281, p<0.001) showed significant improvement from baseline to final session. Longitudinal seizure follow up in 14 patients revealed that gains made on the final session were maintained at follow-up (Z=-1.069 p=0.285). 

Prolonged exposure therapy for patients dually diagnosed with PNES and PTSD reduced the number of PNES and improved mood and post traumatic symptomatology. Follow-up revealed that gains made in seizure control on the last day of treatment were maintained over time.