Expert Interview: Dr Rebecca Kennedy about ME/CFS and Long Covid

Dr. Martina Melzer, published: 05/14/24


Dr Rebecca Kennedy is a family medicine physician and mind-body-expert from Portland, Oregon, USA. She runs a clinic and focuses – amongst other things – on so called „neuroplastic conditions“ like ME/CFS, Long Covid, chronic pain syndromes and more.



Some key points from the interview:

  • Explanation of terms like „mind-body-syndrome“, „psychophysiologic disorder“, „psychosomatic“ and „neuroplastic condition“:
  • Our unconscious brain (which is 95 % of our brain) scans every information – is it dangerous or safe? Depending on that this part of the brain adapts and changes our whole physiology through a biochemical communication system. This can change your heart rate, your digestion, your energy level, it can provoke inflammation and more. Outside and inside information, physical and psychological information can be perceived as dangerous or safe by the unconscious brain. The psychology and the physiology are connected.
  • Dr Kennedy prefers talking about „neuroplastic conditions“, because it makes clear: The source of your symptoms and syndromes is the brain. There is nothing broken in the body. The signaling between brain and body happens through the nervous system (= neural pathways), these neural pathways can change (= neuroplasticity). In conditions like ME/CFS and Long Covid they are changed.

What ME/CFS and Long Covid are from this perspective:

  • The more stress, trauma or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) you´ve been through, the more hypervigilant your unconscious brain gets. It gets a bias towards danger. It perceives more things as dangerous and therefore creates more often a danger signal that is sent to the body and creates symptoms, through your nervous system (and the neural pathways). One example is pain: A signal from a tissue reaches the brain, the brain decides whether this is a dangerous or safe signal. If the brain decides this is dangerous, it sends a danger signal to the tissue and you feel pain in the tissue and change your behaviour. For example you stop walking or move your finger away from something hot. So, the pain is made by your brain, not by the tissue. It works the same for every other symptom. Your brain can also perceive fatigue as something dangerous. You lie down and rest.
  • In ME/CFS and Long Covid, the brain perceives too much incoming information as dangerous and creates danger signals (= symptoms) on and on, because it is so hypervigilant. This happens even though there is no tissue or organ damage and the virus has been eradicated by the immune system (to give an example).

Psychological factors (emotions, personality traits):

  • Certain personality traits such as being a people pleaser, a high achiever or a perfectionist, can have an impact on ME/CFS and Long Covid. They can also dial up the danger signal in the unconscious brain and they can interfere with your recovery.
  • Emotions are important and normal, they are there to protect us. But it is for example often not accepted to express anger. When you were a child and expressed anger towards a parent, this could worsen the relationship to your parent. So, your brain learned: anger is dangerous, better to repress it. But when you don´t feel and express your emotions, they are expressed through the body, this can create symptoms. And this can play a role in ME/CFS and Long Covid too.

How to get better:

  • Most important: Understand the science (= it´s the brain, not the body), accept the diagnosis (= it´s the brain), convince your unconscious brain that you´re safe right now and that it can stop sending danger signals to the body (= symptoms). There are many ways to create safety: stress management tools, emotional awareness and expression therapy, pain reprocessing therapy, laughter, joy, etc. You have to face your fears and couple the „dangerous thing“ with a „safety signal“, this will retrain your brain.

Dr Kennedy´s message: Be open to these new ideas. There is a way out!


Harvard study on Long Covid:

PPDA (Psychophysiologic disorders assocation):

Dr Rebecca Kennedy´s clinic „Resilience healthcare“:

YouTube Channel:

The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for talking to your doctor or other therapist. Please talk to your doctor or therapist before making any decisions about your physical or mental health. Every way into a mind-body syndrome is something individual, and every way out.