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"I will argue that ME is simply a belief, the belief that one has an illness called ME" and other Wessely School quotes


Senior Member
Here are some quotes from Professor Sir Simon Wessely and his Wessely School colleagues Michael Sharpe and Trudie Chalder.

Other members of the Wessely School include: Peter White, Anthony Cleare, Anthony David, Stephen Reid and Elena Garralda.

The Wessely School psychiatrists are largely responsible for convincing medical researchers and clinicians that ME/CFS is an "all in the mind" psychogenic condition rather than the organic (biological) disease it had previously been understood to be.

Their like-minded counterparts in the US include the late Bill Reeves of the CDC and Edward Shorter, in the Netherlands Jos van der Meer and Gijs Bleijenberg, in Denmark Per Fink, and in Australia Andrew Lloyd and Ian Hickie.

It is this small group of psychiatrists and academics, just over a dozen of them, who in the 1990s turned the world of ME/CFS upside down by persuading most medical clinicians and researchers that ME/CFS is psychogenic.

"I will argue that ME is simply a belief, the belief that one has an illness called ME"

— Simon Wessely 1994
Source: This quote comes from Simon Wessely's presentation entitled "Microbes, Mental Illness, The Media and ME - The Construction of Disease" given at the 9th Eliot Slater Memorial Lecture, Institute of Psychiatry, 12th May 1994. The transcript of this presentation is attached.

"Beliefs are consequently probable illness-maintaining factors and targets for therapeutic intervention"

— Simon Wessely, Michael Sharpe, Trudie Chalder et al 1997
Source: Chronic fatigue syndrome. A practical guide to assessment and management. Sharpe M, Chalder T, Palmer I, Wessely S. 1997. Full paper here.

"The clinical problem we address is the assessment and management of the patient with a belief that he/she has an illness such as CFS, CFIDS or ME..."

— Simon Wessely, Michael Sharpe, Trudie Chalder et al 1997
Source: Chronic fatigue syndrome. A practical guide to assessment and management. Sharpe M, Chalder T, Palmer I, Wessely S. 1997. Full paper here.

"In a previous era, spirits and demons oppressed us. Although they have been replaced by our contemporary concern about invisible viruses, chemicals and toxins, the mechanisms of contagious fear remain the same...

To the majority of observers, including most professionals, these symptoms are indeed all in the mind."

— Simon Wessely 2000
Source: Responding to Mass Psychogenic Illness, New England Journal of Medicine 2000. Full article here.

"Like it or not, CFS is not simply an illness, but a cultural phenomenon and metaphor of our times."

— Simon Wessely and Huibers 2006
Source: The act of diagnosis: pros and cons of labelling chronic fatigue syndrome. Huibers MJ, Wessely S. Full paper here.

"Blaming symptoms on a viral infection conveys certain advantages, irrespective of its validity.... It is also beneficial to self‐esteem by protecting the individual from guilt and blame."

— Simon Wessely and Trudie Chalder 1991
Source: Simon Wessely, Trudie Chalder et al. In: Post‐viral Fatigue Syndrome. Edited by Rachel Jenkins and James Mowbray. 1991.

The following article indicates how Simon Wessely has a knack for brainwashing serious-minded doctors into his view that ME/CFS is "all in the mind":
Several years ago I was lecturing in British Columbia. Dr [Simon] Wessely was speaking and he gave a thoroughly enjoyable lecture on M.E. and CFS.

He had the hundreds of staff physicians laughing themselves silly over the invented griefs of the M.E. and CFS patients who according to Dr Wessely had no physical illness what so ever but a lot of misguided imagination. I was appalled at his sheer effectiveness, the amazing control he had over the minds of the staid physicians…. His message was very clear and very simple. If I can paraphrase him: "M.E. and CFS are non-existent illnesses with no pathology what-so-ever. There is no reason why they all cannot return to work tomorrow."

The next morning I left by car with my crew and arrived in Kelowna British Columbia that afternoon. We were staying at a patient’s house who had severe M.E. with dysautanomia and was for all purposes bed ridden or house bound most of the day. That morning she had received a phone call from her insurance company in Toronto. (Toronto is approximately 2742 miles from Vancouver).

The insurance call was as follows and again I paraphrase: "Physicians at a University of British Columbia University have demonstrated that there is no pathological or physiological basis for M.E. or CFS. Your disability benefits have been stopped as of this month. You will have to pay back the funds we have sent you previously. We will contact you shortly with the exact amount you owe us".

That night I spoke to several patients or their spouses came up to me and told me they had received the same message. They were in understandable fear.

What is important about this story is that at that meeting it was only Dr Wessely who was speaking out against M.E. and CFS and how … were the insurance companies in Toronto and elsewhere able to obtain this information and get back to the patients within a 24 hour period if Simon Wessely was not working for the insurance industry… I understand that it was also the insurance industry who paid for Dr Wessely’s trip to Vancouver.

― Byron Hyde
Source: the above quote is from Dr Byron Hyde's website www.nightingale.ca in 2011, but it's no longer on the site.



  • Microbes, Mental Illness, The Media and ME - The Construction of Disease. Simon Wessely 1994.pdf
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Senior Member
Well to be honest, look at some of those dates. Back then, I could see why they made those comments, albeit grossly incorrect. Luckly the tides are slowly shifting

These comments and opinions date back to the 1990s, but are of important historical interest, as their effect and repercussions still dominate the world today.

These comments illustrate the opinions and stance taken by a very small group of psychiatrists and academics, not much more than a dozen of them. But in spite of their small numbers, their opinions ended up persuading the world that ME/CFS is psychogenic, even though there is almost no empirical evidence to support their views. And their damaging legacy remains, and is a major problem for us ME/CFS patients.

In the 1990s this group of psychiatrists and academics managed to completely change the way myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) was perceived by doctors and the medical research community.

Prior to the 1990s, ME was mostly seen as a biological (organic) disease. In the 1970s, we had those dubious dilettantes McEvedy and Beard try to convince everyone that the 1955 Royal Free Hospital ME/CFS outbreak was just mass hysteria, but their ideas were soon refuted. So in general, from the 1950s (time that ME was first given its name) all the way until around the late 1980s, ME/CFS was for the most part seen as a real biological disease.

But by around the end of the 1990s or so, this group of a dozen or so psychiatrists and academics managed to completely reverse that view, persuading most doctors and research scientists to view ME as psychogenic. So the influence of the Wessely School, and other academics and psychiatrists aligned to them, took over the world in the 1990s — even though there is very little empirical evidence to support such psychogenic views.

It was not just Simon Wessely and his UK colleagues who were responsible for making everyone believe ME/CFS is psychogenic. Other people and organizations in other countries also played an important role.

Canadian/American academic Prof Edward Shorter's views were influential in a malign way: Shorter in his 1992 book From Paralysis to Fatigue: A History of Psychosomatic Illness in the Modern Era proposed a wacky and very damaging notion that ME/CFS is merely a set of culturally sanctioned symptoms that rich middle class women like to adopt almost as a fashion statement, and so that they can get attention and indulgence from their expensive private doctors.

Shorter also proposes that all functional diseases are just memes (cultural ideas) propagated through society, rather than real biological diseases. So the implication is that when you have a functional disease like say IBS-D, and you expelling diarrhea every day, you are doing so because of a cultural fashion trend to expel diarrhea! Cleary Shorter's ideas are ridiculous, yet lots of people lapped them up.

And of course it was in the interests of disability insurance companies to promote the view that ME/CFS is an "all in the mind" psychogenic condition, as that enabled these companies to refuse disability payments to sick ME/CFS patients.

In the 1980s, there was an inexplicable huge increase in the number of new ME/CFS cases (for reasons that are still not understood, but it may relate to the polio vaccine), and this massive wave of new ME/CFS patients stood to bankrupt some disability insurance companies.

Thus some unscrupulous insurance companies like UNUM (formerly UnumProvident) — a company which the BBC described as "rogue" — teamed up with the Wessely School psychiatrists in promoting the "all in the mind" view on ME/CFS. Both Michael Sharpe and Simon Wessely have had a long relationship with UNUM, and Peter White is the chief medical officer of the insurance company Swiss Re. Refs: 1 2

These psychiatrists and academics may no longer be pushing their views on the world with the same voracity that they had in the 1990s, yet their legacy still remains, because most of the biomedical research community now still think ME/CFS is psychogenic, and that ME/CFS is caused by the patient's beliefs or attitudes.

So the way this group of a dozen or so psychiatrists and academics have hoodwinked the world into perceiving ME/CFS as psychogenic remains a major problem, and is a formidable hurdle that the ME/CFS community needs to address and overcome. We need to re-educate the research community about ME/CFS, because there is scant evidence for a psychogenic origin of ME/CFS.

Biomedical researcher Jo Cambridge at University College London, who focuses on the role of immune regulation and B-cells in ME/CFS, recently said that she believes ME/CFS is biological, but most of her biomedical colleagues have assumed ME/CFS psychogenic, based on Wessely School propaganda.

That means talented biomedical researchers who otherwise might take an interest in researching ME/CFS will just overlook it, because they have been mislead to believe ME/CFS is just a psychologically-caused condition.
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Senior Member
When I am talking to researchers and medical professionals they often seem confused as to why people with CFS are paranoid when they have to deal with the medical system. It would be great to have a place to point them to (backed my facts like this) to explain why.

Indeed, though we need to exhibit not only these dubious theories and quotes from Wessely, Sharpe and Co, who seem hopelessly cut off from the world, ensconced in their ivory tower of self-indulgent academic thought, but also provide information about the disastrous real-word consequences of these dubious theories, which often result in pediatrician psychiatrists medically abusing children with severe ME/CFS.