“People who know absolutely that they are right are very dangerous”

 “I am greatly saddened that there is so much hostility to the NICE Guidelines and, specifically, to CBT/GET…”

Countess of Mar, Letter to Paul Davis, RiME, 13 November 2008



Hansard  22 January 2004  Myalgic Encephalomyelitis debate

1.39 p.m.

The Countess of Mar rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they subscribe to the World Health Organisation international classification of diseases for myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) under ICD 10.G93.3—neurological disorders.

The noble Countess said: My Lords, first, I must declare my interest as patron of a number of charities that represent people with myalgic encephalomyelitis.*


22 Jan 2004 : Column 1181

Since his arrival on the scene in 1987, Wessely has repeatedly and persistently played down, dismissed, trivialised or ignored most of the significant international biomedical evidence of organic pathology found in ME because it does not fit his psychiatric model of the disorder, for which he claims to have developed a more intensive form of the psychiatric intervention known as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). That consists of using intensive, mind-altering techniques to convince patients that they do not suffer from a physical illness. It also includes forced regimes of graded exercise to be supervised by a Wessely school-trained psychotherapist aimed at getting patients back to fitness.

Wessely school psychiatrists are about to receive £11.1 million, including £2.6 million from the Medical Research Council, in an attempt to strengthen the

22 Jan 2004 : Column 1182

weak evidence that his regime actually works for those with ME. Among his 53, largely undeclared, interests it should be noted that he is a member of the supervisory board of a company, PRISMA, that is supplying such rehabilitation programmes as CBT to the NHS for those with ME, even though such regimes have been widely shown, at their best, to be of limited and short-lasting benefit and, more importantly, at their worst, to be actively harmful to those with the disorder.

The constant theme running through the Wessely School’s published papers is that ME does not exist, that CFS is a psychiatric disorder and that the factors that play an important role in the perpetuation of the disorder include female gender, too much focus on normal bodily sensations, discrete personality traits, avoidance behaviour, learned helplessness, faulty thought processes, lack of motivation, secondary gain, inadequate coping strategies, interpersonal conditioning and contagious sociological hysteria.

Wessely states that patients belong to,

“a cult recruited from the environmental subculture”,

and that those with ME,

“feel no guilt about their condition: sufferers from mysterious illnesses that lie outside conventional medical practice no longer consider themselves to be oppressed by spirits and demons but by mystery gases, toxins and viruses”.

Wessely has made numerous statements about the non-existence of the disorder that can only be described as savagely cruel to the ME community. For example, he refers to ME as a “myth”. He believes that it,

“should not be dignified by [its] own formal case definition and body of research”.

He asserts that symptoms found in ME,

“have no anatomical or physiological basis”,

and that “muscle weakness is simulated”. He advises that, to the majority of professionals, ME symptoms,

“are indeed all in the mind”.

I can provide corroborative evidence of all those statements.

Neither the fact that they may be wrong nor the well documented errors of psychiatrists in the past who authoritatively misdiagnosed Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, diabetes and thyrotoxicosis as mental disorders before medical science revealed their true aetiology, seem to have occurred to the Wessely school. It is certain that it, and it alone, is right. As the world-renowned psychologist, Dr Dorothy Rowe, pointed out:

“People who know absolutely that they are right are very dangerous”.


*The Countess of Mar is a Patron of ME Research UK, The Young ME Sufferers Trust, BRAME, The 25% ME Group.  What is the position of these organisations regarding the recently published views and opinions of Lady Mar?