When physical illness is diagnosed and treated, naturally the focus is on the physical symptoms and treatment. What can often be overlooked is the emotional side of dealing with changes in our health.
Clinical health psychology is an area of psychology that focuses on the emotional and psychological aspects of physical health and illness.
As a clinical psychologist working in this specialty, I often help people when they are having difficult emotional reactions to dealing with illness or injury. It is normal to feel strong emotions when dealing with health problems. You may feel upset, sad, anxious and angry. You may feel overwhelmed with a diagnosis, worried waiting for results and sometimes the emotional effects of dealing with pain or loss of ability to do daily activities that have previously been taken for granted.
Some physical health problems may be ‘invisible’ to others but have a significant effect on the person and make it difficult for other people to understand how they feel. Sometimes relationships can be strained.
Many people find a way through the emotional challenges they face with the help of family, friends and the clinicians looking after them. Others may not have such support. However, even with these types of support, some people find that the emotions they are dealing with are difficult to manage. Specialist psychological therapy can then be helpful.
Julie was 48 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her husband and son were pleased when she had completed treatment and they were reassured to see that she was looking more like her old self. Life seemed to move on for them, but for Julie it felt life would never be the same. She found that she worried a lot about signs of illness. She had lost interest in going out and seeing friends. She ‘put on a front’ that she was ok but inside she felt sad and frightened about the future.
Psychological therapy with Julie involved having the chance to talk openly about how she felt and think about some of the things she might want to share with her family about how she felt. It involved identifying her values and her priorities- understanding what was important for her. It involved planning activities to look forward to and gradually increasing time out of the house and with other people, which she found she started to enjoy. Julie and her psychologist worked to understand her worries and find ways to manage them.
(Julie is not an actual patient but an example of the way psychological therapy can help)
Pre surgery psychological assessments
I am sometimes asked to see patients for psychological assessments when they are considering surgery. I would usually receive a referral from a surgeon requesting that I meet with someone who is deciding about a form of surgery (such as risk reducing breast surgery or cosmetic breast surgery). These appointments involve a general psychological assessment and also a specific focus on the decision making process, expectations and understanding of the procedure as well as associated risks and benefits.
I have worked for more than ten years with a group of colleagues in Clinical Health Psychology. We all have extensive expertise and experience in this specialism. As a group we provide Clinical Health Psychology Services at various locations within Merseyside and Greater Manchester. So, if you need support in a geographical area that I do not cover, I may be able to recommend a colleague.