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Support and Advice from TNPC's Parenting Experts

Question: What information is available on teens and hysteria (i.e.. conversion reactions, psychosomatic diseases, etc.) My daughter,15 has complained of pains throughout her body and has collapsed and has been brought to hospital. Our MD has indicated that it is probably hysteria or conversion reactions. She is under the care of a therapist and psychiatrist. What other information is available on the subject?

Answer: I know that the symptoms can be quite distressing as might be the implication that these symptoms are, somehow, “all in the mind” and therefore not real. However, these are quite real. Somataform Disorders, which are most likely to appear in young females (generally before the age of 25) in this culture. tend to be somewhat chronic, run in families and are quite different from Malingering or Facetious Disorder where symptoms are intentionally produced.
The diagnosis of Somataform Disorder is usually made on the basis of a series of physical symptoms. These include (1) Pain in four different areas of the body — usually head, abdomen, joints, chest or extremities. Menstrual pain can also be part of this and are often the first sign of this disorder; (2) At least two gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting or intolerance of several different kinds of food; (3) A sexual symptom — which can include heavy menstrual bleeding or irregular menses and (4) One pseudo neurological symptom such as a lump in the throat, trouble swallowing or impairment of sight, hearing or touch.

For the most complete information on Somataform Disorder (which used to be called hysteria), I would suggest getting a copy of THE SOMOTOZING CHILD: DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT OF CONVERSION AND SOMATICATION DISORDERS by Elsa Shapiro and Alvin Rosenfield. The book costs $53 but is quite comprehensive. Its ISBN number is 0387963634 and the publisher is Springer Verlag. You should be able to special order it from your local bookstore or a technical bookstore. It is also available via the Internet at Amazon.com where shipping availability of this item is within 4-6 weeks. I’m glad your daughter is getting medical and psychological care. That should help — and your desire to know as much as possible about this disorder will also be helpful to all of you.


An expert in the field of adolescent behavior, Ms. McCoy has authored eleven books on the subject including the best selling “The Teenage Body Book”. Additionally she has written hundreds of articles for major national magazines. Coordinator of the Clinical Ph.D. Program at California School of Professional Psychology and Staff Counselor at the Center for Individual and Family Counseling in North Hollywood, California.

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