Psychological treatment of patients with chronic toxic encephalopathy: lessons from studies of chronic fatigue and whiplash

Moniek S. E. van Hout, Ellie M. Wekking, Ina J. Berg, Betto G. Deelman

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Chronic toxic encephalopathy (CTE), which can result from long-term exposure to organic solvents, is characterized by problems of attention and memory, fatigue and affective symptoms. There is little experience with (neuro)psychological treatment in this patient group. We reviewed treatment outcome studies of CTE and comparable syndromes, namely, chronic whiplash-associated disorder (WAD) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), with a view to providing recommendations for the psychological treatment of patients with CTE. PubMed and PsychLIT were systematically searched and reference lists of retrieved articles were studied. The articles were classified according to study design and level of evidence. The studies of CFS provided high-level evidence for the effectiveness of cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) in challenging dysfunctional cognitions regarding the effectiveness of rest and in stimulating graded activity. The studies of WAD were methodologically weaker, and most evaluated a combination of CBT and graded activity training. There was some evidence that changing fatigue- or pain-related behaviors may result in cognitive improvement. Two uncontrolled studies of CTE evaluated cognitive rehabilitation techniques but yielded inconsistent findings. CBT techniques focusing on changing illness attributions and on stimulating graded activity might be useful for patients with CTE, diminishing fatigue-related problems of concentration and memory. Future studies should evaluate whether cognitive deficits of CTE patients as a result of neurotoxic effects of exposure should be treated by cognitive rehabilitation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-244
JournalPsychotherapy and Psychosomatics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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