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The working life of a counselling psychologist

Author: Dr Lisa Dvorjetz
07 July 2017

Dr Lisa Dvorjetz is a counselling psychologist at Arthur Rank Hospice in Cambridge, where she provides specialist psychological support for patients, their relatives and the bereaved. Here she talks about what her role involves and what she has learnt from it.

After the usual morning ritual of coffee consumption and email checking, the first task of the day involves attending the inpatient unit multidisciplinary meeting. As a team we discuss the medical and non-medical needs for all the patients on the ward. If there is anyone (patient or family member) specifically requesting psychological input then they will be flagged up and I will either attempt to see them after the meeting or at another time within the next few days.

I have a set number of outpatient assessments available throughout the day. The psychological assessment is my chance to get background information from the person referred, what the presenting issue is, what coping strategies they have and where the best place for support is.

Our referrals come from the other teams in the hospice, such as community and day therapy, or via self-referral. If I am not doing assessments then the rest of my outpatient slots are for seeing clients for ongoing short-term counselling sessions. Some of the other activities I do include providing clinical supervision for nurses and for our bereavement support volunteers. I am also occasionally involved in teaching or delivering training sessions.

As cliché as this may sound, the dying have taught me how to live. One of the main themes that comes through from patients I have seen is the importance of relationships and values. As a consequence, I have found gratitude and appreciation for the various relationships I have in my life, family, friends and colleagues. I have also learnt how to find meaning and value in the things that I do.

Being a counselling psychology student meant a lot of my training was focused on ‘doing’ therapy. From working with palliative patients, their relatives and the bereaved I have learnt that no one can take away their emotional pain or suffering. The most important aspect to focus on is the ‘being with’ rather than the ‘doing’.

Every now and again I am reminded of how I am constantly surrounded by death and dying. I have experienced this work as being psychologically, emotionally and physically draining at times therefore self-care is incredibly important and something that I incorporate as part of my job.

When I tell people that I work at a hospice their reaction is usually “how can you work in a place where people go to die?” My response is that I do not see it that way at all.  Arthur Rank Hospice is a place where people do not just come to die but rather a place that is filled with hope, energy and support.

From seeing someone who is initially extremely distressed following the death of their loved one to helping them adjust to a ‘new norm’ is what makes the work so rewarding.  I enjoy the fact that no two days are the same and I am always in awe of the variety of people that I meet on a daily basis.

A part of my job that I am passionate about is increasing psychological awareness within palliative care and in the wider society. We know that psychological factors have a big impact on people’s overall wellbeing yet there is a lack of service provision across the country. By demonstrating the benefit of having psychological support we can work in a more holistic approach to healthcare.

Finally, what makes working at the hospice stand out for me is being surrounded by colleagues who are caring, compassionate and take pride in their work.

For more information visit Arthur Rank Hospice

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