How Can Psychological Therapy Help Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?


Medical conditions such as Chronic Fatigue syndrome can significantly reduce people’s quality of life, and are generally poorly understood.   Read on to find out how Psychological Therapy can help address common Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms to improve people’s wellbeing.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome remains a medical mystery, not least because patients and professionals can’t agree on what it is, or even what it should be called. Some sufferers believe that just referring to ‘fatigue’ fails to recognise the complexity of the symptoms they experience, often involving disturbances in memory, thinking and concentration amongst others. Then there is the added problem of pain that can be quite debilitating but doesn’t get the mention it deserves.

Over the years, different aspects of the illness have been emphasised at different times. Originally it was termed ‘Myalgic Encephalomyelitis’ but the ‘itis’ bit has been dropped as it means inflammation in the brain and spinal cord (which Doctors call the encephalon and myelon) for which there is no definite medical evidence at the moment.  Myalgia means muscle pain so, as this is often associated with the fatigue, people agree this should be part of the description, and as there are noticeable problems with memory and concentration, some form of brain involvement needs to be acknowledged.

It may be better to look at it like this as a way of understanding typical problems than can happen with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome:


F – ailing memoryChronic Fatigue Treatments
A – ching muscles
T – ender joints
I – nability to concentrate
G – reat exhaustion
U – nrefreshing sleep
E –nergy deficit


The umbrella term that seems to capture most of the common symptoms is now known as Myalgic Encephalopathy/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or ME/CSF – so you might hear these problems referred to by any of these terms, however they all essentially mean the same thing.  Often Doctors refer to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as a type of ‘medically unexplained physical’ symptom – in the same way as they do with a similar problem called Fibromyalgia.

How Can Psychological Therapy Help Chronic Fatigue Symptoms?

So, after all that, what can be done about it?

Firstly, of course, if you believe there is a problem with your energy, concentration and memory that has not been diagnosed as due to another illness, you need a sympathetic doctor who will take your symptoms seriously and explore possible explanations.  Don’t allow yourself to be dismissed as having an imaginary complaint, or something that’s ‘all in the mind’.

Chronic Fatigue Therapy
How do you spend your energy?

Drugs and different kinds of physical therapies can all help, but one patient explained how she felt after a course of recommended physiotherapy.  She described her difficulties as ‘having one pot of energy inside her.’  This could be spent like money in a bank account on physical activity, or mental activity, or emotional activity, but once it was spent on one of these, it could not be available for the others.

Like money, too, once it was spent, it took a while for the account to build up again. In fact, a central problem with ME/CFS is the time taken to recharge after even a moderate expenditure, and an overdraft of energy can sometimes take a long time to repay – sometimes weeks. She found that physical therapy on its own, left her too exhausted to face the other demands of her day and she retreated to bed, though couldn’t sleep very well.

This of course gave her and other sufferers like her, quite a bit of anxiety and after a while she began to feel quite depressed about the limitations the illness imposed on her life.

Now, she had already said that emotional activity depleted her total energy bank balance, so she found that her mood further reduced her resources to cope with daily stresses and the ordinary demands of even a very limited lifestyle.  At this point, she thought that a talking therapy might help, and she was referred for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBT for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The therapy was able to help her put a new perspective on her problems and to find ways to manage her physical symptoms in a different way. By concentrating on the thought processes she was using, the therapist enabled her to understand that thoughts drive emotions and behavioural responses. In discussions with her therapist she learned to explore other ways of responding to her situation and to minimise her emotional energy expenditure, leaving a balance with which to achieve more important things.

One of the areas that makes Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Chronic Fatigue particularly useful is that it focuses on looking at how we ‘make sense’ of the sensations in our bodies.  This is because research shows that the way we think about our health can actually improve the way we physically.  The key thing is that CBT works with the types of physical experiences you have as a way of trying to change your thinking bout your body to help you achieve more and improve your energy levels and overall health.  This is very different than telling you that your fatigue is ‘all in your head’, which is often a top concern of people that are thinking about starting a talking therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome.

What Does Psychological Therapy For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Involve?

If you find yourself in a similar situation to the lady above, you could consider taking the route of exploring Cognitive Behavioural Therapy too.

Each person has a unique experience of the situation, and therapy is tailored to meet your specific goals and to exploring ways to overcome the barriers that stop you achieving them. Taking account of the limitations of the available energy, a CBT therapist can help you learn to reduce unnecessary emotional expense, to cope more efficiently with stress and to investigate ways to help you live more of the life you want by gradually increasing your steps towards your goals. Since this is also spending the energy pot on mental activity, the programme has to be carefully designed so that you can understand how to budget your energy to maintain a healthy balance and continue to progress.

CBT has a long history of being effective with just such problems as these and has a good evidence base to recommend it.

CBT For Chronic Fatigue
Get Help For CFS Today…

If you want to know more, why not contact us and we’d be happy to help discuss how a psychological approach could help you overcome Chronic Fatigue Syndrome today…