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Fibromyalgia is a rheumatological disease of unknown origin, which features a chronic pain, and it usually goes together with depression symptoms. It mainly affects women and does not have a cure, although several treatments can alleviate the symptoms. Cognitive-behavioural psychological therapy is one of the tools that have proved efficient when treating this pathology, wirtes the University of Barcelona in a press release.

Now, a study published in the journal International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, reveals there is another psychological therapeutical strategy (personal construct therapy) which is equally efficient when reducing the depression symptoms and improving the life quality of patients.

This multicentre study, which includes the participation of teams from the UB, the UOC (Spain) and UDLA (Ecuador), is coordinated by Professor Guillem Feixas, from the Faculty of Psychology of the UB and the Institute of Neurosciences of the UB (UBNeuro).

The results of the new study “will contribute to shed light on efficient therapies and gain flexibility to adapting to particularities and needs of each patient”, notes lecturer Mari Aguilera, from the Faculty of Psychology of the UB and UBNeuro, who is also member of the UOC and the interuniversity group GRECIL (UB-UOC), and principal co-author of the study together with researcher Clara Paz (UDLA).

A pioneering and multicentre study with 106 affected women

The study included 106 women with fibromyalgia and depression symptoms who were attended to in ten different entities two mental health centres and eight primary healthcare centres. The association between fibromyalgia and depression is common in these patients and it seems to go both ways, so that each one increases the risk and worsens the characteristics of the other.

The volunteers underwent a weekly psychological therapy for about four months. Half of them received a cognitive-behavioural type standard therapy, a strategy that proved to be moderately efficient in this type of patient. The other hald underwent a treatment based on personal construct therapy, a different approach “focused on the identity of people, on how they see themselves, how they see what happens to them and how they see others”, says researcher Joan Carles Medina, member at the Faculty of Medicine of the UB, UBNeuro and UOC.

Depression symptoms reduced by 60 percent

The results of the study show that both therapies reduced depression symptoms by 60 percent in those women who participated in the study, and that there are no significant differences between treatments. Also, they revealed improvements regarding the impact of the disease in the daily functioning and regarding pain. Specifically, nearly one out of four patients who received the personal construct therapy improved the functioning in the medium term, and one of every six experienced a reduction of pain.

More tools for customized treatment

“Fibromyalgia does not have a specific and known cause, and it has no cure, but a psychological improvement has an effect on physical health”, notes Aguilera. This is especially important in a disease that “is still questioned by some doctors and which many times is considered less important because it mainly affects women”, she adds.

“The cognitive-behavioural standard therapy is more interested in the way of modifying the behaviour than the reason behind it”, notes Aguilera, “while the personal construct therapy is mainly focused on how you build your world and what you give meaning to. It is not so much about seeing them against each other but as seeing whether both can be useful from a different perspective”.

Efficient in treating depression

Some studies had shown, for instance, that the personal construct therapy could be efficient in the treatment of depression. However, apart from a pilot study, “this is the first study this is analysed and has been shown to be helpful to fibromyalgia patients”, notes Medina.

Having more proven results allows researchers to adapt to the preferences of the patients and “it helps us to personalize and adapt them better”. “We have more tools for listening, learning and presenting strategies”, concludes Joan Carles Medina.

The study, which received funding from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, goes in line with the sustainable development goal (SDG) 3, on guaranteeing a good health and promoting wellbeing in all ages.

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