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J Psychosom Res. 2013 Sep;75(3):235-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.06.034. Epub 2013 Jul 19.

The process of cognitive behaviour therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome: which changes in perpetuating cognitions and behaviour are related to a reduction in fatigue?

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Expert Centre for Chronic Fatigue, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, The Netherlands.



Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can significantly reduce fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), but little is known about the process of change taking place during CBT. Based on a recent treatment model (Wiborg et al. J Psych Res 2012), we examined how (changes in) cognitions and behaviour are related to the decrease in fatigue.


We included 183 patients meeting the US Centers for Disease Control criteria for CFS, aged 18 to 65 years, starting CBT. We measured fatigue and possible process variables before treatment; after 6, 12 and 18 weeks; and after treatment. Possible process variables were sense of control over fatigue, focusing on symptoms, self-reported physical functioning, perceived physical activity and objective (actigraphic) physical activity. We built multiple regression models, explaining levels of fatigue during therapy by (changes in) proposed process variables.


We observed large individual variation in the patterns of change in fatigue and process variables during CBT for CFS. Increases in the sense of control over fatigue, perceived activity and self-reported physical functioning, and decreases in focusing on symptoms explained 20 to 46% of the variance in fatigue. An increase in objective activity was not a process variable.


A change in cognitive factors seems to be related to the decrease in fatigue during CBT for CFS. The pattern of change varies considerably between patients, but changes in process variables and fatigue occur mostly in the same period.


Change; Chronic fatigue syndrome; Cognitive behaviour therapy; Focusing; Process; Sense of control

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