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How might CBT be useful for children and young people?

Please be aware that given recent publications and emerging evidence, this page is currently under review.

Because M.E. is different for everyone, what works for one person with M.E. might not work for another. So, instead of telling you what we think you should do, we are going to give you some information about different things that you might want to try. The aim of this page is to offer information about cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), so children and young people with M.E. and their parents can make an informed decision.

There have been no published randomised controlled trials of CBT in children or those who are severely affected by M.E. However, it might be useful to know that in 2014, we surveyed more than 2,000 adults with M.E. and found that one in three of them had tried CBT. 

  • 54% said they found it helpful or very helpful
  • 34% said it resulted in no change
  • 12% said it made them a bit or much worse.

Is CBT right for me?

CBT should be delivered by a qualified therapist who has experience of working with children and young people affected by M.E., usually based at an NHS M.E. service. You can search our services directory to see if there might be one near you.

CBT is not a cure for M.E., but it might be a helpful coping mechanism if:

  • carried out in partnership with you, taking account of your individual symptoms and circumstances
  • if you are mildly or moderately affected
  • If you are istruggling to manage your energy and rest, and are stuck in a "boom or bust" pattern of activity
  • if you are feeling anxious or depressed, or struggling to accept the limitations caused by M.E.

An experienced therapist should aim to support you to:

  • set realistic goals, recognise your achievements, understand your limits and learn coping mechanisms for when life is more difficult
  • keep things in perspective and find ways to adjust to your circumstances and better manage the effects of your condition. It can be very helpful with pacing, planning, prioritising, balancing activity and rest, switching activities, setting goals, pre-emptive resting, remaining positive, and being realistic.
  • better manage the stress that comes with having a condition like M.E. This is especially important because stress can affect your whole body, including your heart rate, digestion, how you sleep, and your temperature. This can cause all kinds of extra symptoms, such as palpitations, feeling sick, feeling dizzy, breathing unevenly or having tense muscles. In turn, this might make  you feel frightened or anxious, which can make you feel worse.

If you are offered the CBT programme, these questions might help you work out whether it is going to be flexible enough for you. Ask the therapist:

  • How do you set the goals? (The answer should include 'teamwork' or 'in partnership with you')
  • What happens if I feel it's moving too fast?
  • What if I relapse?
  • Is the therapy hospital or home-based?
  • How long does each session last?
  • How long will the programme last?
  • What will happen if I don't want to finish the programme?
  • Will I still be able to access other medical services/treatments?
  • What happens after the programme finishes?