Improving Health and Quality of Life
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is often prescribed to help patients with chronic illness cope better with illness and develop strategies that relieve the symptoms of their illness. It has been successful in helping patients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. For CFS patients, CBT can be useful by helping them pace themselves and avoid the push-crash cycle in which a person does too much, crashes, rests, starts to feel a little better, and then does too much once again. Often, CBT is prescribed along with other therapies to help CFS patients manage activity levels, stress, and symptoms. CBT can help CFS patients better adapt to the impact of CFS and improve their ability to function and their quality of life.
Doctors may refer some of their CFS patients to specialists who can help them problem-solve and develop techniques for conducting activities of daily living that have become difficult because of their CFS symptoms. Referral to a neuropsychologist, neurologist, or psychiatrist for evaluation and testing may be necessary to determine whether other underlying conditions may be involved. It should be noted that CBT is a highly specialized therapy and requires the input of trained behavioral health clinicians.
Many people with CFS find it therapeutic to meet with other people who have this illness. Support groups can provide patients with useful, current information, and they can provide a sense of community with people who understand what you're going through. Some patients do not have the energy to physically join a support group but can benefit by participating via teleconference.
Support groups are not appropriate for everyone, and some CFS patients may find that a support group actually adds to their stress rather than relieving it. Most support groups are free, collect voluntary donations, or charge modest membership dues to cover basic expenses (e.g. refreshments at meetings or photocopying costs).
A useful support group should include:
- Both newcomers and patients who have had CFS for longer periods of time to provide a balance of perspectives for the group
- People with whom the CFS patient feels comfortable
- Leaders who empathize, gently draw out shy members, and keep others from dominating, and who distill discussion into useful information
- Indications that the group meets the needs of its members
Be aware that some support groups may put their own interests before those of the person with CFS. Groups that try to sell products, charge fees, or engage in other potentially unhelpful activities should be avoided.
Consulting a trained professional will help most patients with any kind of chronic illness to build effective coping skills. A supportive counselor can help the patient develop coping skills to lessen the grief, anger, and guilt that often accompany chronic illness and help empower the patient to seek comprehensive care. Counseling may also help family members better care for their loved ones suffering from CFS. A therapist, using problem-solving techniques and standard psychotherapy and counseling methods, can help the patient work through these issues. In some cases, a therapist may recommend a combination of medicine and psychotherapy.
Sometimes chronic illnesses like CFS affect the entire family, not just the patient. Consulting a behavioral health professional may be helpful to address changes in family dynamics related to living with CFS.