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Challenges of nurse delivery of psychological interventions for long-term conditions in primary care: a qualitative exploration of the case of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalitis

Sarah Peters1*, Alison Wearden1, Richard Morriss2, Christopher F Dowrick3, Karina Lovell4, Joanna Brooks5, Greg Cahill3 and Carolyn Chew-Graham6

Author Affiliations

1 School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

2 School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

3 School of Population, Community and Behavioural Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

4 School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

5 Centre for Applied Psychological Research, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK

6 School of Community Based Medicine, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

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Implementation Science 2011, 6:132  doi:10.1186/1748-5908-6-132

Published: 22 December 2011



The evidence base for a range of psychosocial and behavioural interventions in managing and supporting patients with long-term conditions (LTCs) is now well-established. With increasing numbers of such patients being managed in primary care, and a shortage of specialists in psychology and behavioural management to deliver interventions, therapeutic interventions are increasingly being delivered by general nurses with limited training in psychological interventions. It is unknown what issues this raises for the nurses or their patients. The purpose of the study was to examine the challenges faced by non-specialist nurses when delivering psychological interventions for an LTC (chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis [CFS/ME]) within a primary care setting.


A qualitative study nested within a randomised controlled trial [ISRCTN 74156610] explored the experiences and acceptability of two different psychological interventions (pragmatic rehabilitation and supportive listening) from the perspectives of nurses, their supervisors, and patients. Semi structured in-depth interviews were conducted with three nurse therapists, three supervisors, and 46 patients. An iterative approach was used to develop conceptual categories from the dataset.


Analyses identified four sets of challenges that were common to both interventions: (i) being a novice therapist, (ii) engaging patients in the therapeutic model, (iii) dealing with emotions, and (iv) the complexity of primary care. Each challenge had the potential to cause tension between therapist and patient. A number of strategies were developed by participants to manage the tensions.


Tensions existed for nurses when attempting to deliver psychological interventions for patients with CFS/ME in this primary care trial. Such tensions should be addressed before implementing psychological interventions within routine clinical practice. Similar tensions may be found for other LTCs. Our findings have implications for developing therapeutic alliances and highlight the need for regular supervision.