September 10, 2021

Outcomes in the Treatment of Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES) with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Informed Psychotherapy

Abstract, originally published in Epilepsy & Behavior

Rationale: Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES) are seizure-like episodes without EEG abnormality, and are of psychological origin. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of psychological counseling, is known to be the best intervention to treat PNES and the underlying psychiatric symptoms. Yet, many remain untreated because of limited access to specialized counseling programs. In this study, first we intended to see if the positive outcomes of the cognitive behavioral therapy-informed psychotherapy can be replicated in our patient population using within-group comparison. We also aimed to examine the outcomes of patients who received a variable dose of treatment than the established treatment protocol.

Method: We obtained retrospective patient reported outcomes (PRO) data from patients treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-informed psychotherapy (CBT-ip) from January 2015 to January 2020 in an outpatient tertiary care epilepsy center. The CBTip program is a 12-session intervention delivered weekly by a seizure counselor. Although the program comprises 12 sessions of treatment, we included patients who attended at least 7 sessions consistent with previous research that used a similar cutoff. We had a total of 160 patient PROs included in the analysis. Outcome variables including seizure frequency, depression, anxiety, and quality of life were examined using self-report outcome scores. Demographic and other clinical and psychosocial confounding variables were controlled.

Results: In the first analysis in which we compared pre-treatment scores with 3-month posttreatment scores, there was no significant change in seizure frequency, depression, anxiety, and quality-of-life outcomes. In the second analysis when we compared pre- and posttreatment scores in patients who completed the treatment in longer than 3-month time, there were significant improvement in primary and secondary outcomes. For seizure frequency, 10 patients had data for “seizures per day in the last 6 months” and 5 participants (50%) improved by 50% or more in the number of seizures per day. There were also significant reductions in depression and anxiety scores but not in quality of life.

Implication and conclusions: Our analysis showed that patients treated with cognitive behavioral therapy-informed psychotherapy with a minimum of 7 sessions in 3 months did not have significant improvement. However, attending at least 7 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy-informed psychotherapy in longer than 3 months was effective for seizure control, depression, and anxiety. The observational and exploratory nature of our study, however, limits the generalizability of our findings outside of the single tertiary clinical care setting.