How Can CBT Help Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

How Can CBT Help Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

by Dr Emma Gray - 11th February, 2014

Dear Dr Gray,
My GP thinks I might have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and thinks that maybe Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) could help me. However, I don’t understand how a ‘talking therapy’ can help a physical problem..
Simon – Clapham

Dr Gray Replies……..

Dear Simon
I think that it is fair enough to question how talking about a problem that manifests in such a physical way can possibly help. First let’s start with a general point, our minds and bodies are inextricably linked, the best example of this is the so called ‘stress headache’; stress is easily identified as a psychological problem yet in this example it affects us in a very physical way. Increasingly ‘psychological’ approaches (of which the ‘talking therapy’ is one) are being used as a part of the treatment approach for a number of physical problems including cancer, diabetes and chronic fatigue syndrome. There is in fact now a whole branch of Psychology dedicated to the treatment of what are regarded as primarily physical problems called Health Psychology.
Moving on to think more specifically about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as you will be very aware this problem has a range of very debilitating physical symptoms (including fatigue, muscle pain, sleep problems, stomach pains, sensitivity to light, dizziness) that significantly impair your ability to function on a day to day basis. There are also a range of less visible but equally debilitating psychological symptoms (including anxiety, panic attacks, depression, irritability and low self esteem). Both of these aspects of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome need to be addressed if therapy is to be successful.
Although Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) does fall under the umbrella of a ‘talking therapy’, this does unfortunately do it a disservice. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) does involve lots of ‘talking’, but it is a particular type of talking where very specific and often quite practical techniques and strategies to enhance both physical and psychological health are taught and shared. These strategies not only help you to understand the nature of your symptoms (including origins, triggers and maintaining factors) putting you in a better position to tackle the problem but it will build your skills and confidence to make real and lasting changes.
In the early phases of therapy the aim is the help you to manage your symptoms, the next phase is to bring your symptoms down to a more tolerable level. The final goal is to eliminate them; this takes dedication and the consistent implementation of techniques over an extended period of time, a challenging but with the support of a well qualified professional, a very achievable goal. Most importantly the research shows that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works and you can’t argue with that.
The British CBT & Counselling Service has two centres for therapy in Clapham where Clinical Psychologists and Counselling Psychologists are waiting to help you.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


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