Little is known about the experiences of therapists delivering psychotherapy for patients with dissociative seizures (DS), a complex disorder associated with a range of comorbid psychosocial and mental health difficulties. This study set out to explore therapists’ experiences of delivering DS-specific, manualized cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to adults with DS within the context of a randomized control trial.
Interviews were conducted with 12 therapists involved in the COgnitive behavioral therapy vs standardized medical care for adults with Dissociative non-Epileptic Seizures (CODES) trial and were analyzed using thematic framework analysis (TFA).
Six main themes emerged, namely 1) aspects of the intervention that were favored, while others were not always considered applicable; 2) multiple and complex difficulties faced by patients; 3) working effectively within the protocol; 4) limitations of the protocol; 5) significance of formulation; and 6) quality of standardized medical care (SMC) and difficulties of diagnosis delivery. These addressed valued aspects of the intervention, complexities of the patient group, and experiences working within a structured treatment protocol. Family involvement and psychoeducation were highlighted as important components; the applicability of graded exposure techniques, however, was restricted by patients’ apparent emotional avoidance. The structure provided by the treatment protocol was valued, but flexibility was important to individualize treatment in complex cases. A comprehensive formulation was fundamental to this. The initial diagnostic explanation provided by neurologists and psychiatrists was generally considered beneficial, with patients often perceived to enter therapy with a better understanding of their condition.
This study demonstrated that the DS-specific CBT intervention met with general approval from therapists who also highlighted some practical challenges. Because of the nature of the condition, the need for experience of working with complex patients should be considered when applying the intervention to individual cases. Setting the CBT intervention in the context of a structured care pathway involving neurology and psychiatry may facilitate the therapeutic process.

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