Women’s perspectives on the experience and sense-making of Functional Seizures
: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Functional seizures (FS) are episodic disturbances that resemble epilepsy but which, unlike epilepsy, have no electrical or epileptic activity in the brain. While they are viewed as psychological in aetiology, they are often embedded treatment-wise within a medical model and disproportionately affect women. The role of trauma and stress as risk factors or diagnostic features in its aetiology remains contested among Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Neurologists.
Despite the wealth of literature on Functional Seizures, there is a dearth of qualitative studies exploring the sense-making and attributions of people with FS in relation to their seizures. This explorative study investigated women’s perceptions and sense-making of these seizures.
To explore and gain an in-depth understanding and sense-making of the Functional Seizures and the meanings attributed to them from the perspectives of women.
Eight women who had recently received a diagnosis of Functional Seizures were asked to share their experiences, understanding and attributions of the seizures in semi-structured interviews. Transcriptions were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). The positioning of the researcher within these narratives was also explored.
Three themes emerged from the analysis: In a State of Siege; Connecting and Disconnecting to the Diagnosis and A Disrupted Self. Overall, the findings conveyed a complex, heterogenous understanding and experience of the seizures. Participants largely struggled to connect to any association with trauma.
The findings show a wide divergence in sense-making and explanatory models among women. This raises implications for health professionals working in treatment pathways for FS. Firstly, the need to collaboratively establish with people with FS their individual understanding of the seizures and for Psychologists to take a lead in validating these attributions. Further research is warranted within a Counselling Psychology framework. Limitations, implications and directions for future research are discussed.
Date of Award12 Dec 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorJames Davies (Director of Studies)


  • trauma
  • stress
  • functional seizures
  • non epileptic attack disorder

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