Psychologists in The Guidance Center’s Whole Child Program specialize in treating the intersection of physical and mental health. Because of this specialty, we frequently see children, adolescents and young adults who have been diagnosed with Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder (FND).
FND describes a condition in which a person experiences, completely out of their control, physical and sensory problems such as paralysis, numbness, blindness, deafness or seizures with no accompanying structural problem in the nervous system. The term “functional” comes from the idea that symptoms arise from a problem with the functioning of the nervous system: the very complex way the brain and body communicate about how to feel and act. Frequently, but not always, the functional breakdown occurs when the brain and body communicate about how to process strong emotions or stress. This is why children (and adults) with FND are usually referred to a psychologist as part of their treatment.
A diagnosis of FND can be both scary and confusing. Family members and friends witness very serious symptoms, but they are often told by their medical team there is no clear medical explanation for where the symptoms are coming from. They are referred for outpatient mental health treatment without a clear understanding of how a psychologist can possibly help them see again, start walking or stop having seizures. Sometimes, our clients come to us after being told by a physician their symptoms are “all in their head.”
Whole Child Psychologists know FND is definitely not “all in your head.” The symptoms are quite real and they are distressing. They are also highly treatable. The best treatment for FND is an emphasis on returning to developmentally-appropriate functioning. This can be really hard, but we know it’s what works. We usually begin by finding out what our clients used to like to do that they are no longer doing because of their symptoms. Then, we make a plan together to return to those activities and routines as soon as possible. Sometimes that plan involves working with other members of a client’s life such as a physical therapist or school personnel. The plan usually involves individual and family therapy focusing on assessing and changing how the client thinks about the symptoms, how the family thinks and talks about the symptoms and what clients and families do when they see or experience symptoms. Whole Child psychologists also help our clients to cope with any symptoms of anxiety or depression that may arise as a product of FND. For example, many families worry their child will not get better, they will fall and hurt themselves if not closely supervised or they will not know the difference between FND symptoms and serious medical symptoms if their child is ever in a medical emergency.
Most children with FND are neurological symptom-free in weeks to months. Sometimes it can take a little bit longer. For most children, the symptoms go away and do not ever return. Returning to normal daily activities and routines and early intervention for symptoms are associated with the quickest and longest lasting recoveries.
The Whole Child Program at The Guidance Center is dedicated to improving the psychological, behavioral, emotional and social well-being of children, adolescents and young adults with chronic health conditions, medical complexity and special health care needs. The program specializes in assessing and treating the unique emotional and behavioral needs of children and adolescents who are receiving medical treatment for one or more health conditions. In particular, The Whole Child Program has a focus on recognizing the strengths of youth aged six-21, and helps families build upon those strengths to foster improved adjustment and adaptive coping with t
Lauren Ford, Psy.D., is a psychologist in The Guidance Center’s Whole Child Program, where she helps address the emotional and behavioral needs of children and families with complex medical diagnoses. She is especially passionate about creating integration of medical and mental health care for children and families who might not otherwise be able to receive this kind of care. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2014, Dr. Ford worked with children and adolescents with cancer and blood disorders at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as a psychology extern. Dr. Ford earned a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University.