Many counsellors will explore something of these with their clients as an aspect of their counselling approach. For people with M.E. the family background might show how beliefs and responses to illness and crisis may be based in previous experience.
Some who had counselling found this useful while the others rated it low. Those wanting counselling varied widely in rating this item, and apart from ‘suicide’ it has the lowest overall rating of the ‘M.E. issues’ for the group who want counselling.
Looking at childhood in counselling may be suggestive of a psychodynamic approach and might raise thoughts of Freud and psychoanalysis etc. People with M.E. wanting to address their immediate problems might be put-off if they feel pressured to explore their family background, for a few however, it appears to have been valuable. Exploration of a person’s family background can sometimes reveal the origins coping styles, attachment characteristics, beliefs and responses to illness and crises. The ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ of ‘conditions of worth’ (Mearns and Thorne 2001, p.8) can often be found to originate within the family environment and adaptation to the social life of the family can remain life-long. Bringing these sources of thinking, feeling and behaviour into awareness can enable re-evaluation of expectations.
Van Houdenhove et al. (2001) explored victimisation in chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia and remarked:
Besides the impressive prevalence of victimization experiences in CFS/FM patients, the most striking finding of this study is the higher prevalence of lifelong victimization, particularly in the family of origin and by the partner. ...
Our findings of 48.4% emotional neglect and 37.9% emotional abuse stress the importance of these aspects of victimization in CFS/FM patients.
If a client with M.E. has experienced or is experiencing emotional neglect or abuse it may have an effect on how they engage in the counselling relationship. For those who have no past experience of emotional neglect, some could have suffered emotionally as a result of their illness being disbelieved. Millen et al. (1998) remark:
In contrast to a number of identifiable chronic conditions CFS can pose real problems in acceptance of the sufferer by significant others. Blake (1993) outlines the frustration that accompanies the condition when family and friends together with health practitioners treat the condition with censure and disbelief.
Many counsellors work with awareness of the possibility of childhood experiences affecting clients, but making assumptions could be damaging to the relationship. Respondents with M.E. remarked:
>The Counsellor probed into my childhood. Disappointed that there were no history of physical or sexual abuse, we went on to other experiences such as grief and loss. Unfortunately, I coped and still do and tend to view these as part of life's experience, and try to make the best of any situation. I was and am still quite an optimiste. The more he probed, the more confused he the Counsellor was. I did not suffer from emotional distress, or any psychological, emotional or psychiatric mobidity. Where could he go from there?
>Because I have never seen a counselor with any knowledge of ME/CFIDS, my symptoms were always attributed to childhood abuse, which has left me even angrier and more frustrated as I enter my 20th year with the disease, which I got at 17.
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