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Clinical psychology in palliative care

Patient information A-Z

Information on seeing a clinical psychologist working in the Addenbrooke’s Palliative Care Team.

The Palliative Care Team is a multi-professional team. They can offer support, help, and advice to individuals experiencing potentially life-threatening illnesses and their family. Patients may see different team members such as a clinical nurse specialist, medical consultant or clinical psychologist. This leaflet gives a summary of what the clinical psychologist in the team may be able to offer you.

Who are clinical psychologists?

Clinical psychologists are trained and professionally qualified to help people with a range of concerns that may be affecting their emotional or psychological well-being. They understand that there are inseparable links between physical health and symptoms and emotional health and how important a holistic approach is to our general well-being and quality of life.

Psychologists are not medically trained and will not prescribe medications.

Who would see a clinical psychologist?

Living with a medical condition, undergoing treatments, and dealing with the impact on your life and your loved ones, can be challenging. It is normal to experience a wide range of emotions and responses at such a difficult time.

Many people will find it helpful to talk to their health care professionals, family members, and friends about their illness and how they are feeling. However, for some people this is just not possible, it feels too difficult or it is not helpful.

What problems could a clinical psychologist help with?

Some people may find it useful to speak to a clinical psychologist and your health care professional may have suggested this to you. Everybody will have different reasons for seeing a psychologist, and below are just a few examples:

  • Support with managing difficult to treat physical symptoms, such as pain, breathlessness, fatigue or nausea and vomiting
  • Coping with feelings of fear and uncertainty, about the future for example
  • Feelings of anxiety, low mood and depression
  • Adjusting to change and loss

Some people will want to meet with a psychologist on their own, but it can also be helpful to meet with family members or friends depending on an individual’s wishes and circumstances. Psychologists will also work closely with other professionals who can help support individuals to develop strategies and resources for managing the consequences of an illness.

What happens when you meet a clinical psychologist?

When a person is staying as an inpatient, the clinical psychologist will often see them at their bedside, or if possible, in a private room.

For people coming to hospital as an outpatient, the psychologist will arrange to see them in an outpatient clinic room or arrange a telephone or video call.

The length of the meeting will often vary depending on an individual’s needs and wishes, but would not normally be more than one hour.

The first meeting will be an opportunity to talk through the problem that has brought a person to see a psychologist, to gain a shared understanding of what might have caused it, what is maintaining it and explore ways to make helpful changes. With this understanding, it is often useful to agree on a plan, which may include arranging further appointments on a regular basis, self-help or sign-posting to other services.

How can a clinical psychologist help?

A clinical psychologist will provide a safe and non-judgemental space for an individual to talk through their experiences; how it has made them feel, what they think about it and what they are already doing to cope.

What a psychologist can do to help will depend on the individual but it may involve for example, learning techniques or strategies such as relaxation, mindfulness exercises or guided imagery. It may involve exploring the way we think about things, how we relate to other people or how we respond or behave and whether making small changes to these things could be helpful.

What will happen to the information shared with a clinical psychologist?

Clinical psychologists follow the same rules of confidentiality as all hospital staff. They are part of the clinical team and will routinely communicate with doctors and other health professionals involved in a person’s care. Psychologists will always record details of their meetings on a patient’s electronic notes. There are occasions when information has to be shared more widely with relevant professionals, such as when a person is believed to be at risk of harming themselves or another person. If you have any concerns about the sharing of sensitive information, please do discuss this with the professional involved in your care.

Contact and further information

If you require further information please contact:

Dr Lynda Teape and Dr Alison Sillence
HCPC Registered and Chartered Clinical Psychologist in Palliative Care
Box 63
Elsworth House
Addenbrooke's Hospital
Hills Road

Tel: 01223 274404

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Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

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Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151