Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition that is characterised by extreme tiredness, which does not improve with rest. It is also commonly known as known as ME, which stands for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.
The physical exhaustion experienced by sufferers can limit their ability to carry out normal daily activities and fuel symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression.
Approximately 250,000 people in the UK have chronic fatigue syndrome. According to western medicine, there is no cure. At the same time, some people who have undertaken alternative medicine treatment, do claim full recovery (the author of this page being one such person). However, there is no “scientifically recognized” research to support such claims.
Dealing with the uncertainty of whether you will ever feel better is one of the primary challenges for people dealing with CFS.
Another troubling aspect for many chronic fatigue sufferers is that, your level well-being can change at any time, with no predictability. Some days you may feel quite capable and engaged in day to day life, without any apparent symptoms, then other times, for no obvious reason, you can experience an extreme energy slump that means even coping with the smallest task, can feel like a huge effort.
Chronic fatigue syndrome can have an adversely effect on many areas of a person’s life, making the every day elements of daily life such as work, family and friends difficult to manage and negotiate.
Chronic fatigue syndrome can affect anyone at any time in their life, but it is most commonly found among women, often occurring between the early 20’s to mid 40’s. Whilst symptoms vary from person to person, common elements amongst sufferers include; a general lack of well-being accompanied by tiredness, irritability, sensitivity, poor concentration and sleep disturbance.
Some of the most common symptoms of CFS are listed below. Not everyone will experience each of these symptoms and some people will have additional symptoms not listed here.
How Counselling and Psychotherapy Can Help
Counselling can help you cope with the physical symptoms and negotiate the psychological and emotion impact of CFS.
A chronic fatigue counsellor can show you how certain patterns of thinking and behaviour can trigger a cycle of low moods and feed an emotional and physical downward spiral. You can learn alternative ways of perceiving and responding to your experience which help you manage in a way that provides more relief during the difficult times and enhances your ability to get more enjoyment, comfort and ease in your journey with or through the illness.
For some people counselling for chronic fatigue syndrome can be focused on helping them adjust to daily life with the condition and managing their symptoms. Others find psychotherapy can provide support and useful psychological insights as they seek to cure their symptoms through alternative medicine routes. Some people find complementary therapies such as meditation, acupuncture, naturopathy and homeopathy can enhancing coping abilities and in some cases cure the physical symptoms altogether.
Those who take care of people with chronic fatigue syndrome can also benefit from counselling. Making sacrifices to care for a loved one can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and/or isolation, and counselling can provide helpful guidance and support on how to cope in the best way possible.
What Aspects of CFS Can Counselling Help With?
Here are some of the common issues CFS sufferers face that chronic fatigue syndrome counselling can help address:
- Powerlessness: When you suddenly cannot carry out tasks that you used to be able to take on without difficulty, it can be quite upsetting. Counselling can help you reach a sense of acceptance about your new limitations.
- Wanting to go back in time: It’s understandable that people with CFS might wish they could turn back time and go back to when they were able to function normally. However, dwelling on the past can lead to feelings of self-blame that only compounds the problem and prevents them from moving on. Counselling can help you learn ways to keep your focus in the present and work with the possibilities in the here and now.
- Worries and fears: People with chronic fatigue syndrome often worry about issues such as relationships, their social life, financial insecurity, and their jobs. These same worries often plague their caretakers, who are sometimes prone to covering up these thoughts because they worry they will appear selfish. In addition, it is normal to be afraid that your condition will never improve or get worse. Counselling can help you develop strategies to manage these worries and fears.
- Self-blame and guilt: Some people with CFS might blame themselves for their condition or their inability to recover from it. If other people in their lives are making sacrifices to take care of them, they might also feel guilty on top of that. Counselling can help manage these unpleasant feelings.
- Frustration: People who are uninformed sometimes believe that those with CFS are simply not motivated to carry out activities, but the opposite is actually very often the case: people with CFS want to participate in activities but their symptoms prevent them from doing so, which can lead to a great deal of frustration.
- Seeking A Cure: Some people wish to try every avenue possible to see if there is a cure for them. Because western medicine views CFS as incurable this means exploring the world of alternative medicine which is as broad as it is deep. This journey can be an incredibly challenging one, because there are endless alternatives and what might help one sufferer may not help another at all. Whilst some may eventually find a cure others may not. CFS Psychotherapy can help you cope with emotional challenges taking on such a journey can bring.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for CFS
Cognitive behavioural therapy for CFS is the most commonly recommend therapy intervention provided on the NHS because it is evidence based, time limited and therefore cost effective for NHS budgets. It can help you identify thoughts and behaviours that make the condition more difficult to manage and make you more aware of the stressors that can make your symptoms worse. A CBT therapist can show you strategies that can enable you to cope better in managing the impact of this syndrome on your life. You may also learn relaxation techniques that can prove helpful when you are tired, uncomfortable or stressed.
Integrative Psychotherapy for CFS
Because CFS affects different people in many different ways, an integrative psychotherapy approach to CFS can combine several therapies, including CBT and tailor the therapy to a person’s unique needs and learning style. This approach can be more comprehensive and produce more lasting results than a course of CBT therapy alone, because it can also address any historic roots which often tend to significantly undermine people’s ability to cope and negotiate through the illness, in the best way possible.
Mindfulness Therapy for CFS
Mindfulness based cognitive therapy teaches people how to be present and not dwell on the past or obsess over the future. This approach helps people focus on what is happening right now as a means of reducing anxiety and stress, two problems that many CFS sufferers grapple with. It can also help with insomnia and symptoms of depression which can be experienced by people with chronic fatique syndrome.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome support groups can provide sufferers with the opportunity to connect with others who are dealing with similar problems and reduce feelings of aloneness. Group members share helpful coping strategies as well as practical information on resources such as medical care or financial assistance.
Visit the following links for further information on our locations that can support your CFS:
This page was written by Maggie Morrow (MSc, BSc, Adv Dip, UKCP) and medically reviewed in September 2021.