There’s always a person wrapped around the heart

9th June 2018

This article is taken from our April issue of My Life magazine. You can read the whole magazine here, or to subscribe to receive a free copy via email or post please sign up here.

Graeme Gillespie is a consultant clinical psychologist at the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust. We interviewed him recently for our My Life magazine to find out about his background and how he works with people with cardiomyopathy.

How did you become a clinical psychologist?

After completing a first degree in psychology at Manchester University, I came into clinical psychology through an unusual route. I taught in secondary education prior to training and worked as an educational psychologist, before completing a doctorate in Clinical Psychology in 1996, then working in North Wales in a Child Development Centre.

There, I became increasingly interested in the links between physical health and psychological wellbeing. That led me into working as a clinical health psychologist and a move back home - to the wonderful north east of England.

What does your work involve?

My work is quite varied and includes direct and indirect clinical work, training, management/supervision, service development and research. Clinical work is usually with people referred by cardiac rehabilitation/community cardiology teams, as well as from hospital-based cardiology colleagues.

What methods do you use to help patients?

Effective psychological help is collaborative, so I always start by finding out what patients feel would be most useful to talk about. Often (but not always) the starting point is a history of their medical journey and how this experience has affected them.

We work together in order to reach a shared understanding of the difficulties they are currently struggling with and want help to manage. But of equal importance is identifying their internal

strengths and qualities, as well as the range of possible sources of support they have drawn on throughout their lives.

My work is informed by various psychological therapies, which I use flexibly to suit the needs and preferences of the individual patient.

How does your work help people living with cardiomyopathy?

Often patients report the process of describing their experiences, thoughts and feelings is helpful in itself. Rather than give advice, I usually try to help patients find the best ways forward for themselves, by focusing on actions that reflect what’s most important to them. Healthcare, particularly involving the heart, can be dominated by the language of symptoms, diagnosis and treatments, but there is always a thinking, feeling person wrapped around the heart and we need to pay attention to their psychological, as well as physical wellbeing.

What other help can people access?

People with cardiomyopathy face a wide range of challenges and stresses that can affect them psychologically - in positive, as well as negative, ways. Cardiomyopathy UK’s information booklet on emotional health and wellbeing is a great resource and a very useful starting point for anyone who would like further support.