Fibromyalgia – real disease getting real benefit from CBT

People with Fibromyalgia suffer on many levels. They live with a chronic and painful, life-altering, multi-system disease that affects about 2% of the general U.S. population. For many years, they also suffered from widespread skepticism and debate about the disease itself. Was it real? Wasn’t it the same as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which the media disparagingly called Yuppie Flu?

Thankfully, the uncertainty officially ended in 1990 when the American College of Rheumatology established criteria for its diagnosis. This was a positive step; however, appropriate treatment would remain unclear.

A good deal of research has emerged since then and a recent review of treatment protocols for Fibromyalgia showed that the best outcomes involved pharmacologic therapies in combination with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Exercise and patient education, part and parcel of a CBT approach, were also important.

Cognitive therapy strategies “help patients understand the effect that thoughts, beliefs, and expectations have on their symptoms.” It was also very important to use the strategies to help patients prioritize time to achieve balance in their daily lives.

3 replies
  1. Susan
    Susan says:

    One of the symptoms of CFS is very low tolerance for even the most minor stress — and stress makes other symptoms worse — so therapy that helps people manage negative feelings seems like a good idea to me. That said, I think a lot of people with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia will meet the idea with some resistance. When you have someone who’s been told for years that their very really symptoms are just in their head, how do you explain that CBT is different?

  2. CT Today
    CT Today says:

    In cognitive therapy, we work on specific problems. Many fibromyalgia patients want help in reducing stress related to work, relationships, managing at home, managing their health care, etc. We also investigate with them (because we truly don’t know beforehand) whether their thoughts about their limitations are completely accurate or helpful. We may help them come to a level of acceptance about their limitations and/or they may do some behavioral experiments to find out whether they can go beyond their current limitations. We also work with them on the meaning they ascribe to their illness and help them decatastrophize.

  3. Rhonda
    Rhonda says:

    As a sufferer of Fibromyalgia and CFS since 2004, I know the pain and life altering affects first hand. I believe CBT is very beneficial in maintaining quality of life for those of us that do suffer from these disorders.

    As a graduate level student for mental health counseling, I am a firm believer in CBT and have applied to this my own circumstance with great results. Though I can’t say that I don’t have my bad days, I don’t have as many that I can’t manage. I believe that the CBT, along with Cymbalta has given me back some quality of life.


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