Objective: This study evaluated the long-term outcome of cognitive behavior therapy versus relaxation therapy for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Method: Sixty patients who participated in a randomized controlled trial of cognitive behavior therapy versus relaxation therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome were invited to complete self-rated measures and participate in a 5-year follow-up interview with an assessor who was blind to treatment type.
Results: Fifty-three patients (88%) participated in the follow-up study: 25 received cognitive behavior therapy and 28 received relaxation therapy. A total of 68% of the patients who received cognitive behavior therapy and 36% who received relaxation therapy rated themselves as "much improved" or "very much improved" at the 5-year follow-up. Significantly more patients receiving cognitive behavior therapy, in relation to those in relaxation therapy, met criteria for complete recovery, were free of relapse, and experienced symptoms that had steadily improved or were consistently mild or absent since treatment ended. Similar proportions were employed, but patients in the cognitive behavior therapy group worked significantly more mean hours per week. Few patients crossed the threshold for "normal" fatigue, despite achieving a good outcome on other measures. Cognitive behavior therapy was positively evaluated and was still used by over 80% of the patients.
Conclusions: Cognitive behavior therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome can produce some lasting benefits but is not a cure. Once therapy ends, some patients have difficulty making further improvements. In the future, attention should be directed toward ensuring that gains are maintained and extended after regular treatment ends.