• While ME (or chronic fatigue syndrome) isn't a psychological condition, the right counsellor can make all the difference says Vicky Mould

  • You can find a counsellor on our directory here

ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy) or CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) is a very complex condition, and many people who have heard about it, usually know it as the condition ‘that makes people tired all the time’. Whilst there is some truth in this statement, it is a severe and debilitating tiredness that most of us will never experience, and it’s one of many symptoms associated with the condition.

ME is defined as a neurological condition and disease of the central nervous system (World Health Organisation, ICD 10 G 93.3). Around 250,000 people in the UK have a diagnosis of ME, and 25% of these will experience the severe form of the condition, such as being confined to their house and/or their bed for many months, and even years.

Whilst the cause of ME isn’t clear (we just don’t know enough about it yet), several research papers have disproved the theory that it is ‘psychological’ or caused by ‘psychological distresses'. We do know that some of the mainstream treatments can help, and that counselling can enable people with ME to manage the condition more effectively.

If ME isn’t ‘psychological’, then why counselling?

Counselling can be helpful for any chronic long-term condition, offering a safe place to explore experiences and feelings, to help you cope and come to terms with significant life changes, re-discover who you are, and increase your confidence and self-esteem.

The purpose or aim of any kind of counselling is to enhance your life and overall sense of wellbeing, and if you’re living with ME, it can provide an opportunity to manage the condition more effectively, and even ‘live well’ with the condition.

Many people with ME experience problems in their relationships, in employment, and in education, and most of this stems from a lack of understanding and acceptance around the condition.

Counsellors who are experienced in ME can offer a place where you feel valued, respected and truly heard. Whilst counselling can offer some real practical aspects of managing the condition, such as improving sleep, and learning how to balance activities with rest and relaxation, it offers a safe place to address the emotional impact of living with ME, which is often very distressing, sometimes even more so than the condition itself.

Whilst the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommend counselling for people with ME, particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, counselling is not a treatment for the condition, and it is certainly not a cure (there is no cure for ME).

Counselling is usually undertaken as part of an individualised management programme, and the most important thing is to find a counsellor that has experience in the condition, and of course, one that you feel comfortable working with.

Counsellors with experience working with the condition will know that ME is not an ‘issue’ or ‘problem’ that you bring to the therapy room – you are a unique person first and foremost, and more often than not, the the condition is having an impact on all aspects of your life.

They will be able to offer a ‘whole person’ or holistic approach to counselling, and a safe and supportive relationship to:

  • Explore life changes and loss
  • Express painful feelings and emotions that can arise from the condition, such as sadness, fear, guilt, frustration and anger
  • Address factors that may be exacerbating the condition, such as stress, relationship issues, and being unable to say ‘no’
  • Learn how to manage activity levels, alongside relaxation techniques
  • Set and achieve personal goals
  • Feel a sense of control over the condition

Further reading

Treatments offer hope for chronic fatigue syndrome

The impact of chronic pain on mental health

The emotional and psychological fallout of chronic illness

How to build resilience against chronic pain