Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Is The Biopsychosocial Model Responsible For Patient Dissatisfaction And Harm?

By Keith J Geraghty and Aneez Esmail in the British Journal of General Practice.

In 1977 George Engel wrote about the need for an ‘integrated approach’ in medicine that moved the focus beyond biological mechanisms of disease to include all pertinent aspects of illness presentation, setting out a ‘biopsychosocial model’.1 Around the same time, McEvedy and Beard asserted that the disease ‘benign myalgic encephalomyelitis’, described by Ramsay at the Royal Free Hospital, London, was nothing more than a case of ‘mass hysteria’.2 In the 1980s, doctors combined theories of neurasthenia, hysteria, and somatoform illness, to reconstitute ME as ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’. Psychiatrists argued that CFS was best understood using a biopsychosocial (BPS) framework, being perhaps triggered by viral illness (biology), but maintained by certain personality traits (psychology) and social conditions (sociology).3 Although the BPS model holds much utility in understanding ‘illness’ in a wider context, many sufferers of CFS reject the notion that their illness is psychologically or socially derived. Significant numbers of patients report difficult interactions with doctors that leave them feeling dissatisfied, disbelieved, and distressed. In this article, we question whether or not the BPS model generates ‘harms’ for CFS patients, and we ask if other, alternative approaches might be more preferable to both patients and GPs.

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