Cognitive behaviour therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome in adults: face to face versus telephone treatment: a randomized controlled trial

Behav Cogn Psychother. 2012 Mar;40(2):175-91. doi: 10.1017/S1352465811000543. Epub 2011 Sep 20.


Background: Previous research has shown that face to face cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). However, some patients are unable to travel to the hospital for a number of reasons.

Aims: The aim of this study was to assess whether face to face CBT was more effective than telephone CBT (with face to face assessment and discharge appointment) for patients with CFS.

Method: Patients aged 18-65 were recruited from consecutive referrals to the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) Research and Treatment Unit at The South London and Maudsley NHS Trust in London. Participants were randomly allocated to either face to face CBT or telephone CBT by a departmental administrator. Blinding of participants and care givers was inappropriate for this trial. A parallel-groups randomised controlled trial was used to compare the two treatments. The primary outcomes were physical functioning and fatigue.

Results: Significant improvements in the primary outcomes of physical functioning and fatigue occurred and were maintained to one year follow-up after discharge from treatment. Improvements in social adjustment and global outcome were noted and patient satisfaction was similar in both groups.

Conclusions: Results from this study indicate that telephone CBT with two face to face appointments is a mild to moderately effective treatment for CFS and may be offered to patients where face to face treatment is not a viable option. Despite these encouraging conclusions, dropout was relatively high and therapists should be aware of this potential problem.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Adult
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • London
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Dropouts / psychology
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Telephone*