Psychology Today fails in its duty of care to people with ME

#MEAction UK has written to the online publication Psychology Today asking for the retraction of a stigmatising blog post. 

We believe publications such as this have a duty of care to their readers and those who they write about. In this instance that duty of care was neglected. The blog post in question fell back on outdated tropes that should have long ago been relegated to the past.

We have chosen not to include the link to this blog post here, so as not to increase traffic to this post.

Read our letter to the editor requesting retraction of the blog below:

Dear Editor,

On 23 September 2020 Psychology Today published a blog by Temma Ehrenfeld titled “Is Chronic Fatigue in your Head?” – now changed to “How Does Chronic Fatigue Develop?”.

This blog has drawn strong criticism from people with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). In consideration of the points set out below, #MEAction UK requests that the blog be withdrawn from the publication. We would welcome its replacement with writing that is more balanced in its information, more precise in evidencing its claims and does not conflate ME with the single symptom of fatigue. 

It is commendable that Ehrenfeld has highlighted the severity of ME, noted the prevalence of viral triggers and cited some published research and information from the CDC. The author has also noted that immune system irregularities and autoimmunity are indicated in the disease. However “chronic fatigue” and “exhaustion” are inaccurately conflated with ME through the article, adding to the stigmatisation and dismissal that people with ME already suffer.  

While Ehrenfeld does not deny that ME has physical results, she appears to argue that these are actually warning signals from the brain that can be overcome by the will of the individual if they really wanted to: “if your house was on fire, you’d find the energy to get up”. Such tropes have long meant that people with ME aren’t given the support they require and deserve, from their friends and families through to healthcare, access to benefits and more. They ignore the cardinal symptom of ME – post exertional malaise – that means that even where someone could act in instances of extreme danger they would suffer severe consequences from doing so. Further, this ignores the significant minority who are bedbound and unable to move in any way. 

Unfortunately, this article does not constructively contribute to the debate about treatments that may be helpful to this patient group. Proposing exercise as a useful response goes against the mass of data showing significant deterioration in people with ME undertaking exercise programmes, and the recent National Institute for Health and Care Excellence statement that graded exercise therapy should not be assumed to be applicable to people with post-COVID fatigue. 

Fundamentally, this blog’s substance helps to further muddy the waters of opinion around whether ME needs to be treated as a disease that requires biomedical research to identify its underlying causes. The article assumes emotional instigation as the definitive underlying cause of ME, without offering substantive evidence to back up this claim. Given the history of the disease and how people with ME have had to fight tooth and nail for years to be taken seriously by the medical profession, such writing is irresponsible.

We hope you will take swift action to address this, and look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

#MEAction UK


9 thoughts on “Psychology Today fails in its duty of care to people with ME”

  1. Time these people educated themselves properly!!? The WHO Recognises this condition as the serious Neurological condition that it is!! Thank You for pointing out to “Psychology today”their blatant disregard of failing in their duty of care to people with ME

  2. Wow!!, “If your house was on fire, you’d find the energy to get up”…
    This sentence really struck me as one who has suffered with severe CFS
    There were several months during my ME/CFS where I thought “if there was a fire, I couldn’t get up to save myself” I wasTHAT bad. So this sentence by this author is completely infuriating and insulting to me.
    Walk in our shoes and then you would be embarrassed by your judgement of us in this way!

  3. I am really shocked that with all the scientific evidence to prove that M.E/CFS is a serious
    neuroimmune illness, people can still write articles that are cavalier with the truth.

  4. I am disappointed that such an insensitive piece has been published by Psychology Today. It is obvious that you have no experience with the devastating impacts of ME/CFS on the lives of its victims and their families. Shameful.

  5. Maschelle Mashburn

    the irony of the comment “if there is a fire you’d find a way to get up” takes me straight back to the first time I experienced being unable to move at all, I couldn’t even call out to people or open my eyes but I could hear what was going on and I realized that if I had my pillow stuffed up close to you and covering my nose I couldn’t even move my head off it and I would suffocate. And then I realized if my smoke detector went off I could not move and therefore I would lie there and die without even being able to call out for help. It was a terrifying moment in my illness and that is exactly why we must use pacing so we do not bring on Post Exertional Malaise that renders those of us that can move a little from moving at all. A condition that can even render us unable to speak. This is a cold, heartless and dangerous writing and it’s reflective of how I am still being treated today after diagnosis in 2006. I’m breezing through the covid-19 lockdown because I’ve been prepped for it by being on lockdown caused by this illness since 2008. I’m a survivor and I have survived illness-imposed quarantine year after year in isolation without losing my mind. It’s time that we get the compassion we deserve and the proper care.

  6. I am certainly surprised at the insensitive comments by Psychology Today of all publications. That was a field I was majoring in before I had to quit the university for the second time. Thanks for not letting it pass and addressing it with them on our behalf. I do not subscribe to the magazine anymore and that would give me pause to do so again.

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