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Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 1994 Sep;16(5):319-25.

A psychodynamic view of the chronic fatigue syndrome. The role of object relations in etiology and treatment.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Toronto Hospital, Ontario, Canada.


The chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a constellation of physical and psychological symptoms including incapacitating fatigue associated with a marked reduction in activity. Although the etiology of CFS is unclear, reports in the literature suggest the presence of both physical and psychological dysfunction in this patient population. These findings have led to a debate between those who consider CFS to be primarily organic in origin and those who view CFS as a primary psychiatric disorder characterized by somatic preoccupations. This debate led the authors to develop a working model for CFS designed to integrate the psychological and physiological findings, based on the hypothesis that early object relations have an etiologic relationship to CFS. This hypothesis then formed the rationale for a psychoanalytic treatment approach which will be described. There are no published case reports describing psychoanalytic psychotherapy as a primary treatment modality for this patient population. The current paper attempts to fill a void. Two case reports of long-term (> 18 months), intensive (2-3 times per week) psychoanalytic psychotherapy with CFS patients referred by infectious disease specialists at a university teaching hospital will be presented. The following aspects of the treatment will be highlighted: 1) the unique opportunity afforded by this treatment to view the nature of CFS, namely, the intimate relationship over time of fatigue symptoms to disturbances in object relationships, particularly within the transference; (2) the improvement in symptoms when this relationship is seen and understood by the patient; (3) the importance of the patient-therapist bond as a facilitating medium for clinical improvement; (4) the challenges involved in treating CFS patients with psychotherapy.

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