Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome ?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a cluster of symptoms, rather than a distinct physical condition. Symptoms include prolonged physical and mental fatigue, headaches, poor memory and concentration, unrefreshing sleep, muscular and joint pain, and irritable mood. The cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is unknown. It is often associated with a number of psychological symptoms including depression, anxiety and fatigue. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome affects approximately 0.2% to 0.5% of the general population.

Why consider psychological treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Psychological input is worth considering in cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, since:

  1. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is biobehavioural in nature. The condition has physiological and psychological components.

  2. There are no curative treatments available for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

  3. Fewer than 10% of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients report substantial natural recovery or long-term remission.

  4. Treatment and care is long-term and ongoing.

There is no denying the physical symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but it must be remembered that the mind and body are intimately related. Each has an effect on the other. As Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is biobehavioural in nature and presents with high levels of psychological difficulties, psychologists can offer substantial help to people with this condition.

  1. Psychologists can help people to monitor and adjust their behaviour (activity) in order to minimise fatigue and pain, and to improve perceived energy levels.

  2. Psychologists can help patients to identify overwork-collapse patterns and train them in activity-pacing and sleep-management techniques.

  3. Psychologists are trained to help people address personality style factors and unhelpful thought patterns and attitudes that may be impacting negatively on individual performance and activity.

Personal thought patterns and attitudes are first formed during our childhood and teenage years and we primarily learn them from our parents, teachers, peers and other significant people in our lives. These patterns become habitual or 'automatic' and affect how we deal with our life experiences and the feelings which arise from them. In short, our thoughts and attitudes generate and direct our behaviour. Unhelpful thought patterns and attitudes can increase and aggravate Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms. These can be effectively restructured by patients, when assisted by psychologists using effective, research-based techniques.

How can a psychologist help?

Psychologists may help people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the following ways:

  1. Psychologists can identify psychological factors that may make a person more vulnerable to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

  2. Psychologists can identify personal factors, such as personality styles, unhelpful thought patterns and attitudes, and lifestyle factors, that may maintain Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms.

  3. Psychologists can suggest specific strategies and techniques that will help to minimise these factors and help Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferers manage their condition more effectively.

  4. Psychologists can also offer effective non-pharmacological treatment of conditions which have been found to be commonly associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, in particular, anxiety and depression. (See 'Anxiety: A Psychological Approach' and'Depression: More Than Just a Case of the Blues'.)

If you would like to discuss concerns about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with a Psychologist, please phone Regional & Rural Mental Health Services on (07) 4637 9989, or contact us via our Contact Form to arrange an appointment to see a member of our team.

Dr Pamela Seaton