I first became interested in functional neurological disorders (FND) about eight years ago, while working as an assistant clinical psychologist in clinical neuropsychology. My attention was captured by clinicians differing approaches to treating FND, and the numerous different theoretical explanations for these conditions. Since that time I have completed an academic PhD and then gone on to train as a clinical psychologist. My interest in FND remains as strong as ever, and I think that there is lots to be done in terms of developing new treatments, raising awareness about these conditions and reducing stigma.
I was delighted when in November 2016 the University of Leeds offered me the opportunity to take up an academic post researching FND, with a clinical appointment at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Upon arrival I immediately set about trying to build a regional FND clinical research group. I thought that this would be a difficult task, but it turned out that I was wrong. Within the first two months three excellent consultant neurologists, with existing research interests in FND, got involved: Dr Melissa Maguire, Dr Jane Alty and Dr Luis Idrovo. We were then joined by academic cognitive neuroscientists, and many other researchers and clinicians are now peripherally involved. Indeed, we now have five doctoral students researching various aspects of FND.
There are two strands to our research work. The first strand aims to understand if or how neuropsychological/physiological processes affect symptoms. The second strand explores treatment options which might help improve quality of life and functioning given uncertainty regarding how FND is caused or maintained. One day we hope that the first strand of research might inform the second, and our treatments will directly target the mechanisms which we will have found to maintain the condition.
It should be said that in all our research endeavours we are attempting to stand on the shoulders of giants. We are informed by the work of several other research teams – mostly in the UK – that are producing ground-breaking research on, for example, physiotherapy treatments and sensorimotor impairments in the condition. We hope to add our contribution to this valuable work.
Reflecting back on my 17 month journey with our Leeds FND research group, the most salient thing I have learned is that clinicians and academics of all kinds are very interested in FND and keen to contribute to finding new treatments for the condition. With our research group up and running our next challenges are to recruit sufficient participants (people living with FND) to our research studies, and to convince funding bodies to financially support our work.
If you are interested in anything written here, then please feel free to contact us. If you are near Leeds and are living with FND, then we would love to have you participate in this work, in any way you can.
Dr Chris Graham, Clinical Psychologist & University Academic Fellow in Behavioural Medicine at the University of Leeds