The Clinical Health Psychology team supports the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people who are under the care of Alder Hey due to an underlying health condition or an acquired injury. They also support the families of these young people as well as the staff who take care of them. The team is made up of psychologists, creative arts therapists and psychiatrists and work with lots of medical and surgical teams across the hospital.
We know that a health condition can have a significant impact on a young person and their family and the incidence of mental health difficulties can be 3-5 times higher than among healthy peers. Young people come to the Clinical Health Psychology team for support with a range of emotions including, worry, sadness, fear and anger. These are linked to the challenges of living with a health condition and might include adherence to treatment, pain, adjustment to diagnosis, feeling different from peers, uncertainty about the future, changes in day to day functioning.
Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Emma Twigg told us “The service is a central part of many patients’ health journeys. We are always humbled by the strength and resilience of the patients who attend Alder Hey and it is a privilege to be a part of their journey.” You can watch Emma explaining the services covered by Clinical Health Psychology at Alder Hey in the video Talking Heads below.
Creative Arts Therapies provide an alternative way to support children and young people to express their feelings and worries through music or art materials. Alder Hey Charity has proudly funded Creative Arts Therapy posts at Alder Hey for many years, with the Arts Therapist post being generously supported by our donors, The Teapot Trust. There are numerous examples of how this type of intervention has proved to be extremely effective. Melanie Thomas, our Music Therapist, explains "Sometimes the medical world can be confusing, and it can be hard to know what to say, how to say it, or even how to connect with other people. Many young people and their families at Alder Hey experience low mood, anxiety, and other difficult feelings. By putting the painful feelings into music and art, we can look at them outside of our bodies, and together we can try to make sense of them."
Some of our patients and families have kindly shared their stories.
"Hi my name is Rubi, I am 13 years old and live in Garstang. I first started my care with Alder Hey in 2008 when I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I had chemotherapy and an operation. They stopped it growing and I just had regular check-ups and scans for the next ten years. But in March 2020 I got told it had become active again. I am now on a different type of weekly chemotherapy for 2 years.
The Clinical Health Psychology team has helped me so much. They have helped me with worries about everything that comes with having cancer and treatment and also helped me with going back to school and the anxiety about COVID 19. It is a great place to just talk and offload and I am so grateful I have them for giving me strategies to help me cope. Not having loads of overwhelming thoughts has helped me to carry on with my dancing, art, makeup and spending lots of time with my family and friends (although most of this has had to be virtually recently)."
Inspiring and creative, 11 year old Amelia is not defined by her cerebral palsy. Music Therapy at Alder Hey has helped to support her mental health, find ways to express the challenges she faces and focus on her strengths and abilities.
Amelia faces her challenges with a smile on her face, however as she has got older, her insight into her own difficulties has grown. Amelia was referred to the Clinical Health Psychology Team for support around her physical health needs and the impact these have on her life. Amelia made it clear from very early on that she found talking about complicated thoughts and feelings really difficult, and so was referred to our Creative Therapies team.
Amelia began music therapy sessions toward the end of 2019 and often uses songs to express her thoughts and feelings. A lot of the time Amelia's song choices are a deliberate and thoughtful expression of her emotional world, although sometimes Amelia expresses thoughts and feelings that she is not aware are even bothering her. Working through song lyrics she has been able to talk about many themes, including the importance of independence and empowerment. Amelia has been able to share times where she has felt disempowered, and how hard this has been.
Our charity funds our Music Therapist, Melanie, who works in our Clinical Health Psychology team. They support the mental health and wellbeing of children with physical health conditions, and their families, here at Alder Hey. The 7 in 10 Children’s Mental Health Appeal is so important to helping us build bright futures for children like Amelia.
In November 2018, Joey suffered from a brain haemorrhage due to an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). Joey fell ill after being dropped off at school by his mum, Karen and was quickly rushed to Alder Hey. After having life-saving surgery, Joey required the support of a multi-disciplinary team at Alder Hey and made a remarkable recovery.
“The first music session I remembered was feeling the vibrations of a ukulele on my bed, it was a nice feeling as I couldn’t feel anything else in my body at that time. I loved dad and Georgina playing “mum’s song” as it made me happy; it is a song we sing at home that dad wrote for mum when she was pregnant with me. I couldn’t speak at this point, so it was like talking through music. I also had sessions with Mel, who brought iPad with a music app. I showed her my garage band app and I made songs for the Alder Hey staff and we danced. I loved mixing tunes and playing them for the nurses.” Read more about Joey's recovery here.
Our Clinical Health Psychology service deserves a purpose-built home, in a comfortable, modern, welcoming environment that provides young people and their families with a safe space to come and explore challenging thoughts and emotions. We have a target to raise £3million to enhance the brand-new Mental Health and Community buildings, currently under construction on our campus, and we are more than half way there! Your support will help us to go the extra mile for young people and families who need us, ensuring that mental health services at Alder Hey are at the same world-class standard as our services for physical health.
7 in 10 children do not access the support they need early enough. We know that by developing the facilities and services needed, Alder Hey can change the future of children’s mental health. We can provide the listening ear that is urgently needed in child-friendly surroundings where we can hold these conversations. Together we can help to build a brighter future for children and young people. Read more about our 7in10 Appeal here.