Pust GEA, Randerath J, Goetzmann L, Weierstall R, Korzinski M, Gold SM, Dettmers C, Ruettner B, Schmidt R.

Fatigue in persons with multiple sclerosis (PwMS) is severely disabling. However, the underlying mechanisms remain incompletely understood. Recent research suggests a link to early childhood adversities and psychological trait variables. In line with these studies, this paper took a psychodynamic perspective on MS-fatigue. It was hypothesized that fatigue could represent a manifestation of maladaptive coping with intense emotions. The schema therapeutic mode model served as a theoretical and empirically validated framework, linking psychodynamic theory and empirical research methods. The study was based on a data set of N = 571 PwMS that has also served as the basis for another publication. Data was collected online. The Schema Mode Inventory was used to quantify regulatory strategies to cope with emotionally stressful experiences. In addition, depressive symptoms (Beck’s Depression Inventory – FastScreen), physical disability (Patient Determined Disease Steps), alexithymia (Toronto Alexithymia Scale-26), adverse childhood experiences (Childhood Trauma Questionnaire), and self-reported fatigue (Fatigue Scale for Motor and Cognitive Functions) were assessed. Latent profile analysis revealed three distinct groups of PwMS, based on their coping mode profiles: (1) PwMS with low maladaptive coping, (2) PwMS with avoidant/submissive coping styles, and (3) PwMS with avoidant/overcompensatory coping styles. Multivariate comparisons showed no significant difference in physical disability across the three groups. However, heightened levels of self-reported fatigue and depression symptoms occurred in PwMS with maladaptive coping styles. A path model uncovered that self-reported fatigue was robustly related to physical disability (β = 0.33) and detached/avoidant coping (Detached Protector; β = 0.34). There was no specific relation between any of the maladaptive coping modes and depression symptoms. Detached/avoidant coping was in turn predicted by childhood emotional abuse and neglect. The results indicate that childhood adversity and detached/avoidant coping styles may be associated with variability in MS-fatigue severity: PwMS that resort to detached/avoidant coping in response to negative emotions also tend to report heightened levels of fatigue, although they do not differ in their perceived disability from PwMS with low levels of fatigue and maladaptive coping. A link between MS-fatigue and the psychodynamic traumatic conversion model is discussed. The implications of these findings for therapeutic interventions require further study.

Front Neurol. 2021 Apr 7;12:652177.

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