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A new low in research? "Writing about CFS symptoms causes harm"

Simon

Senior Member
Messages
3,789
Location
Monmouth, UK
Normally I ignore rubbish studies but this one is so bad it deserves a special mention.
Brief report: Writing about chronic fatigue increases somatic complaints

Marko Jelicic ; Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, The Netherlands
Mincke Frederix ; Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, The Netherlands
Harald Merckelbach ; Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, The Netherlands
Abstracts

Participants were instructed to imagine that either they or a friend were suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and were asked to fabricate a story about how CFS affected their own or their friend's daily functioning. Control participants were not given an imagination exercise but were asked to write about their study choice. After the writing exercise, all participants completed the Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90). Participants who had written a story about how CFS symptoms affected daily life (either their own life or that of a friend) had higher scores on the Somatization subscale of the SCL-90 than controls. This finding resembles the misinformation effect documented by memory research, and suggests that elaborative writing about illness, through its symptom-escalating power, has iatrogenic potential [harm].

The most striking feature of this study is that it doesn't feature any CFS patients, instead using a bunch of psychology undergrads (who may, co-incidentally, have strong views on CFS).

All this shows is that imagining life with CFS affects how healthy people answer a questionnaire taken immediately after that bit of writing - a 'priming' effect that is well-known is pyschology.

There is no comparison group either. They may have had similar findings if they had used MS as the illness instead, but I doubt they would have suggested in that case that the writing was causing 'harm'. The Discussion section speculates:

By asking individuals to write about an illness, their mental schema of that illness becomes activated, making them overly attentive to vague and ambiguous sensations that could be part of the illness. This focus on everyday sensations may then lead to an increase in somatic symptoms. Thus, it can be argued that having individuals to elaborate on the characteristics and consequences of an illness may play a role in the development of MUS [medically unexplained symptoms].

I haven't read fully, and don't intend to but the full text is available for masochists.

And if writing causes harm, just imagine the effect of talking about symptoms to a consultant for an hour could have. Surely better to have no medical attention at all...
 
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Messages
10,157
By asking individuals to write about an illness, their mental schema of that illness becomes activated, making them overly attentive to vague and ambiguous sensations that could be part of the illness. This focus on everyday sensations may then lead to an increase in somatic symptoms. Thus, it can be argued that having individuals to elaborate on the characteristics and consequences of an illness may play a role in the development of MUS [medically unexplained symptoms].

It can also be argued that the tooth fairy is real, and the moon is made out cheese.

I am picturing Wessely dancing a little jig of happiness, high-fiving Gerada.
 

alex3619

Senior Member
Messages
13,810
Location
Logan, Queensland, Australia
It can also be argued that the tooth fairy is real, and the moon is made out cheese.

I am picturing Wessely dancing a little jig of happiness, high-fiving Gerada.

I don't know about the tooth fairy, but I see evidence of Santa and the Easter Bunny every year!

The notion that most of psychiatry is either scientific or validly a medical discipline is under serious attack from within their own ranks. The branch that is most vulnerable is psychosomatic medicine. As I said in my blog:

Medically Unexplained Symptoms are Psychosomatic? Psychosomatic illnesses are medically unexplained.

Its a philosophical description, not a scientific one, and has no scientific validity.
 

Ren

.
Messages
385
I'm going to write the title of this psychobabble fan-fiction and its authors' names on a piece of toilet paper, flush it, and then contemplate how this exercise made me feel. :rofl:

(P.S. I just noticed there's a smiley that resembles the "dark lord" himself: :nerd:. - Ahhhhh!!!)
 

Waverunner

Senior Member
Messages
1,079
Participants were instructed to imagine that either they or a friend were suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome

I wonder why they haven't introduced this method for other illnesses as well.

"We told healthy participants to imagine how it would be to have a broken leg. Then participants were told to not focus on the broken leg and go for a jog. It worked. Despite the fact, that lots of mental energy was needed, the group went for a jog and felt better when they returned. As a conclusion we can say, that going for a jog would be a good way to make people with broken legs feel better."

This is so ridiculous.

Conducting studies can be expensive. That's why we now use students and tell them to just imagine certain diseases? Much cheaper and much easier to solve...
 
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Bob

Senior Member
Messages
16,455
Location
England (south coast)
This provides evidence that subjective outcomes measures in CFS/ME studies are unreliable and vulnerable to response bias, and that objective outcome measures are needed to reliably assess outcomes in CFS/ME studies.

I wonder what effect writing about symptoms has on a two-day CPET test.
 

Hip

Senior Member
Messages
17,791
"suggests that elaborative writing about illness, through its symptom-escalating power, has iatrogenic potential"

So why don't these psychologists apply their above conclusion to psychotherapy as well, which after all, involves elaborative talking to a therapist about one's life problems and mental symptoms. Their above conclusion would suggest that elaboration of personal problems and mental symptoms during psychotherapy is harmful, and therefore that psychotherapy or similar psychological talk therapies are harmful.
 

Legendrew

Senior Member
Messages
541
Location
UK
Could it be that this disease causes such a wide array of symptoms that writing a story about it merely helps ill patients to remember more of the suffering they've endured..? This is more a demonstration of the ability to remember than it is a demonstration of any principle and it's been demonstrated thousands of times that arranging things into a story aids in the memory process...
 

Snowdrop

Rebel without a biscuit
Messages
2,933
o_O What motivates these people to come up with this drivel.
It sounds like they don't have the skill set to pursue anything of substance but they're good at getting grant money.
If research was a tree, these people need to be pruned.
 

Iquitos

Senior Member
Messages
513
Location
Colorado
"...making them overly attentive to vague and ambiguous sensations that could be part of the illness. This focus on everyday sensations may then lead to an increase in somatic symptoms. Thus, it can be argued that having individuals to elaborate on the characteristics and consequences of an illness may play a role in the development of MUS [medically unexplained symptoms]."

These people need a course in logic. They just won't admit to the reality that the "characterics and consequences" of the illness come FIRST. They ARE SYMPTOMS, which precede any talk about them.

What's "vague and ambiguous" about low or no NK cells; mitochondrial damage; unique proteins in spinal fluid; passing out because of loud noise (hyperacusis)?

Does writing about these symptoms have such a strong influence on reality that it extends all the way to the labs that do those tests?

I'd like to sentence these psychoquacks to watching this video twice a day for a year: