In-Person ME/CFS, FM and ES Group
**Please note that due to COVID-19 Groups are now virtual until further notice. The ETeam assessments are in person**
Therapy for Alberta Residents
With Eleanor Stein MD FRCP(C)
Updated June 2021
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Environmental Sensitivities are severe, chronic, multisystem disorders that can cause significant impairment and disability.
As a psychiatric specialist, I combine conventional medical, psychiatric, psychotherapeutic and environmental medical approaches in the treatment of ME/CFS, FM and ES. Detailed information about my approach to managing these conditions is found in the manual Let Your Light Shine Through.
Why Join a Group Therapy?
Groups have a powerful impact. Over the past 21 years, people attending the groups I facilitate consistently report positive changes. Group psychotherapy provides access to accurate information and effective strategies, both from the facilitators and from other participants. Participants quickly learn that they are not alone. Many break into tears at the relief of being understood and supported. ME/CFS, FM and ES are very isolating conditions and the mutual support that occurs in a group can be invaluable.
My focus on group psychotherapy is not because I believe these conditions are psychological or psychiatric. It is because I have observed the powerful therapeutic impact of group participation.
Participants are encouraged to try new ways of managing their health and their lives. Success leads to increased confidence. Participants begin spending less time at medical appointments and more time living life.
At present, I do not offer individual assessment and treatment. Instead, I am providing more group experiences.
In-Person Psychotherapy Groups
Pre-COVID groups were held during midday hours at an accessible location with free street parking in central SW Calgary. Some groups run every other week and some monthly, as indicated below. Each session is two hours in duration, with two breaks. When in person, all groups are strictly fragrance-free.
Post-COVID some groups may remain online and some may return to in-person depending on the preference of the participants. Online groups are open to all residents of Alberta with a valid Alberta health care card.
The benefits of group psychotherapy increase with regular attendance and commitment to completing the homework or practice between sessions. This means participants should have a level of health that enables regular attendance and enough time and emotional space in their lives to devote energy to new learning and integrating what they learn into daily life. The groups I facilitate are not designed for people in crisis.
The time commitment required to benefit from the groups ranges from a few minutes to an hour or more daily, depending on the group. The recommended homework generally involves a combination of self-awareness, charting, reading and trials of behavior change.
The fees for all psychotherapy groups are covered by Alberta Health. On occasion, I run a group collaboratively with other professionals (e.g., psychologists or social workers) who bill directly for their services. Some groups have a defined number of sessions (eg. 8 or 10). Others are ongoing and patients can participate as long as they wish.
Types of In-Person Psychotherapy Groups
- Self-Management Group – Ten sessions – This group provides validation, information, skills and practice in self-management. This group is appropriate for newly referred patients who have a confirmed or probable diagnosis of ME/CFS, FM and ES. After completing this group, patients may register for other groups relevant to their needs. This group meets every other week. The homework takes up to 30 minutes daily.
- Advanced Self-Management Group - This ongoing group provides support and information for patients who have completed the Self-Management Group and want to continue learning how to improve their health. We review the topics covered in the Self-Management Group and then branch out widely depending on the interests of the group. Participants are knowledgeable life-long learners and are encouraged to share their knowledge and experience. This group meets every 4 weeks. There is no homework.
- Coping Group – This ongoing psychodynamic psychotherapy group helps participants gain insight and make attitudinal and behavioral changes based on those insights. We dig deeply and often cover non-illness-related issues, including self-esteem, body image, identity and past events. The goal is to create a new, meaningful life despite chronic illness. We use The Chronic Illness Workbook by Patricia Fennell as a guide. This group is appropriate for patients who have completed the Self-Management Group and seek better psychological coping. Patients commit to eight sessions at a time and may continue in the group until they feel ready to move on. Individuals interested in this group will meet with Dr. Stein for a screening interview to ensure a good fit. The group meets every other week. The homework takes approximately two hours every two weeks.
- Transforming Pain Group – This group guides participants in using the brain’s ability to rewire itself to unlearn pain. We utilize the manual Neuroplastic Transformation by Drs. Michael Moskowitz and Marla Golden. This group is open to all with persistent pain. Previous participation in the Self-Management Group is recommended but is not mandatory. All participants will be screened by phone prior to the group to assess readiness to join. The group meets every other week. Rewiring the brain takes at least one hour of daily practice. Many participants choose to repeat the group to solidify and expand their progress.
- Sleeping Soundly Group – Eight sessions – This group teaches CBTi theory (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia) and skills and supports participants in choosing and implementing changes in sleep-related behavior and thoughts. This group is open to all with insomnia. Previous participation in the Self-Management Group is recommended but is not mandatory. We use the manual Quiet your Mind and Get to Sleep by Rachel Manber and Colleen Carney as a guide. Each referred participant will meet with Dr. Stein for a pre-group sleep assessment to identify individual goals. The group meets every other week. The homework takes approximately 10 minutes daily and involves keeping a sleep diary and implementing trials of behavioral change.
- Lifestyle Goals Group – This ongoing group assists participants to set and achieve goals of their choice. The members of this group describe it this way:
“This is a positive, empowering group that will support you to set and achieve goals that are important to you. We use trial and error to find what works for us and we celebrate successes. We are lifelong learners. We explore new topics and share our knowledge and experience. Come join us. This group can be life changing.”
This group is appropriate for patients who have completed the Self-Management Group. Participants are active learners and often bring their own new information to the group. This is a monthly, ongoing group. Homework entails awareness of and changes to daily routines.
- Neuroplasticty in Action Group - This group acquaints participants with some of the commonly used programs using neuroplasticity for therapeutic change. Drawing on an extensive syllabus, we will discuss and practice how to implement the ideas presented by experts in the field. This group is appropriate for patients who have completed the Self-Management Group. Participants will benefit most if they are able to commit to one hour of practice daily (not necessarily all at once). Participants will be encouraged to practice with other participants between sessions.
Groups offered in the past include Dialectical Behavior Therapy and a group for caregivers of patients with ME/CFS, FM and ES. If you have ideas for groups that would assist you, please forward them to the office.
How to Join a group
- For in-person psychotherapy groups, anyone age 16 and over with a valid Alberta health care card may be referred by a physician (MD), nurse practitioner or registered psychologist. In-person groups may recommence later this year. They take place in central Calgary, so participants usually live in the Calgary area. I am likely to continue some online groups post-COVID if there is demand. These groups are open to any participant with a valid Alberta health care card.
- Patients who are current smokers will not be accepted as group participants due to the chemical sensitivity of group members. They are welcome to join the online groups.
When we receive your referral, Meagan Butler, my office manager, will contact your referring physician to confirm we have received the request. She will contact you to confirm your interest in a group (typically the Self-Management Group to start). You will be asked to provide information about your health conditions, your objectives and concerns or questions you have about participating. We may do additional screening by phone or in person. Once screened, your name will be placed on the wait list for the next available group. You will be contacted several weeks before the group is to start to confirm your participation. After you complete a group, your referring physician will be sent a letter confirming your attendance.
The fees for all psychotherapy groups whether held in person or online are covered by Alberta Health. On occasion, I run a group collaboratively with other professionals (e.g., psychologists or social workers) who bill directly for their services. You will always have advance notice of this and the choice to opt out.
Contact the Office
Meghan, my office manager, works Mon - Thurs 10 am - 3 pm. Please call the office at (403) 287-9941 and listen to the outgoing message to be advised of the next office hours. You may leave a message at any time, 24/7, and your call will be returned the next business day. Non-urgent messages can be sent by email and will be answered on the next working day. Urgent messages, such as inability to attend a group session, should be left on the phone answering machine rather than sent by email.
Privacy Of and Access to Information
This office meets all standards of Alberta’s Health Information Act. With a few legal exceptions, your medical record is confidential and you must provide written consent for us to disclose information to any third party.
Fragrance Free Environment
Many group participants have serious health reactions to fragrances including perfume, cologne, lotion, hair spray, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, soap, petrochemicals and tobacco smoke. If you arrive for a session with a fragrance that causes another participant to feel unwell, you may be asked to leave. You can avoid this by purchasing and using unscented products. Here is a list of unscented products, many of which can be purchased at major retailers.
Products for Sale
We have a small library of books about ME/CFS, FM and ES, environmental medicine, neuroplasticity, diet and mental health. You are welcome to borrow items for up to one month with a refundable deposit of $10.
My experiences in Dr. Stein’s groups I have attended include the opportunity to encounter a non-judgmental, supportive, accepting, encouraging, community and body of knowledge.
I have been able to improve my medical condition after closely monitoring what is important for me to do to avoid flare-ups.
I have had chronic fatigue, major depression, and multiple chemical sensitivities for for 51 years. Thanks to Dr. Stein's programs - my MCS is probably 75% better (I can actually go places), I very rarely have migraines, I am sleeping so much better, I am much happier and I am managing my chronic fatigue better.
I have had fibromyalgia for over thirty years and felt that I was well-informed on the subject but I was wrong. Dr. Stein has created a program that provides current medical and scientific research, broken down into easily manageable sessions, and explained clearly and consistently.
The group was managed well by Dr. Stein. She is very knowledgeable about current research concerning FM and CFS.
The atmosphere she creates during the sessions is professional, friendly, and comfortable with plenty of time for questions and discussion.
The most important thing is that it gave me hope. How did it do this? By giving me an understanding of what was happening to me and explaining many possible methods to try to improve my condition.
The manual she provides to accompany the sessions is invaluable and I found myself returning to it over and over again.
It is just nice being with people who “get it”.
Knowing that I was not alone was of great help.