Deutsch: Konversion / Español: conversión / Português: conversão / Français: conversion / Italiano: conversione

Conversion refers to the influence of a minority on a majority, based on convincing the majority that its views are correct.

In the context of psychology, conversion refers to the process whereby psychological distress is expressed as physical symptoms. This concept is central to the understanding of conversion disorder, previously known as hysteria, where emotional disturbances are converted into loss or change of bodily function.


Conversion in psychology involves the unconscious transformation of unresolved psychological conflict into physical manifestations, which cannot be explained by medical conditions. These symptoms can include blindness, paralysis, or other neurological symptoms that affect voluntary motor or sensory functions. This mechanism is thought to be a defense strategy by the psyche to avoid mental distress by diverting attention away from what is psychologically painful or unbearable to something physical.

Application Areas

Conversion symptoms are primarily dealt with in clinical settings:

  • Clinical psychology and psychiatry: These fields diagnose and treat conversion disorder, focusing on the underlying psychological factors contributing to the physical symptoms.
  • Neuropsychology: Studies the brain's role in the conversion of psychological stress into physical symptoms.

Well-Known Examples

A historical example of conversion in psychology includes the work of Sigmund Freud and his colleague Josef Breuer in treating Anna O., a patient who presented with a variety of symptoms, including partial paralysis, that were ultimately attributed to psychological factors rather than physiological causes.

Treatment and Risks

Effective treatment of conversion disorder involves addressing both the physical symptoms and the underlying psychological factors:

  • Psychotherapy: Particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy, is commonly used to help patients understand and deal with their psychological issues.
  • Physical therapy: May be used to help manage and treat the physical symptoms.
  • Medication: Although not a primary treatment for conversion disorder, medications may be used to treat concurrent psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

Symptoms, Therapy, and Healing

  • Common Symptoms: Include unexplained paralysis, blindness, deafness, or seizures.
  • Therapy Techniques: Techniques such as hypnosis, insight-oriented therapy, and stress management strategies are often employed.
  • Healing Process: The prognosis can vary, but many patients see improvement with a combination of psychotherapy and physical therapy. Education about the disorder and ongoing support are critical components of successful treatment.


Articles with 'Conversion' in the title

  • Conversion hysteria: Conversion hysteria refers to the viewpoint, originally advanced by Freud, that specific unconscious conflicts can produce physical disturbances symbolic of the repressed conflict - no longer a dominant viewpoint in Health psychology
  • Conversion or reparative therapy: Conversion or reparative therapy refers to any one of a number of treatments designed to turn lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGBs) into heterosexuals.
  • Conversion reaction: Conversion reaction refers to a disorder in which a psychological disturbance takes a physical form, such as when arms or legs are paralyzed and there is no physiological explanation
  • Conversion theory: Conversion theory refers to Serge Moscovici’s conceptual analysis of the cognitive and interpersonal processes that mediate the direct and indirect impact of a consistent minority on the majority


Conversion in psychology refers to the expression of psychological distress through physical symptoms. This concept is key in the diagnosis and treatment of conversion disorder, where the body serves as the battleground for unresolved psychological conflicts. Effective treatment approaches typically combine psychotherapeutic techniques with physical interventions to address both the psychological and physical aspects of the disorder.


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