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Mechanisms of change underlying the efficacy of cognitive behaviour therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome in a specialist clinic: a mediation analysis

  • D. Stahl (a1), K. A. Rimes (a2) and T. Chalder (a3)

Several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have shown that cognitive behavioural psychotherapy (CBT) is an efficacious treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). However, little is known about the mechanisms by which the treatment has its effect. The aim of this study was to investigate potential mechanisms of change underlying the efficacy of CBT for CFS. We applied path analysis and introduce novel model comparison approaches to assess a theoretical CBT model that suggests that fearful cognitions will mediate the relationship between avoidance behaviour and illness outcomes (fatigue and social adjustment).


Data from 389 patients with CFS who received CBT in a specialist service in the UK were collected at baseline, at discharge from treatment, and at 3-, 6- and 12-month follow-ups. Path analyses were used to assess possible mediating effects. Model selection using information criteria was used to compare support for competing mediational models.


Path analyses were consistent with the hypothesized model in which fear avoidance beliefs at the 3-month follow-up partially mediate the relationship between avoidance behaviour at discharge and fatigue and social adjustment respectively at 6 months.


The results strengthen the validity of a theoretical model of CBT by confirming the role of cognitive and behavioural factors in CFS.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: D. Stahl, Ph.D., Department of Biostatistics, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
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