Wednesday 05 May 2021
Clinical psychologist Kate Fulton from Maggie's at The Royal Marsden is featured in 'Psychology Today'. She shares her insights on collaborating with fellow psychologist Rachel Trimmer to set up a parent support group.
Maggie’s centres are built in the grounds of NHS hospitals. We work closely with our colleagues in the NHS to complement the specialist care they provide people with cancer, with our own unique psychological and practical support based within beautifully designed and supportive surroundings.
Clinical Psychologist Kate Fulton from Maggie’s at The Royal Marsden, has recently collaborated with Rachel Trimmer, working in the Paediatric and Teenage Psychological Support Service at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.
Kate and Rachel originally trained together. In the last year, they have set up a support group for parents of children with cancer.
Rachel and Kate are both clinical psychologists but work in different environments following different cancer care models. Rachel’s team offer psychological therapy, support and advice to families throughout the treatment journey of a child or young person aged under 18 with cancer, from the time of diagnosis, throughout treatment, and after treatment has ended .
When the idea of the support group came up we were keen to avoid overlap with support that the paediatric and young adult psychology team might already be providing. Working with parents of children with cancer is something which the paediatric team at The Royal Marsden encounter daily in their clinical work.
Whilst it is not the sole focus of a Maggie’s psychologist, the themes of shock, grief, a sense of powerlessness and guilt that parents can experience were familiar in both our caseloads. Collaborating with one another to create and run a parent support group came with its challenges though. The paediatric psychological team have a tighter remit in terms of what they offer to the patients and families compared to Maggie’s.
When we began to discuss the logistics of how to create the group across our services, an initial worry was that our two systems might in fact be incompatible. A question remained at the back of our minds: does collaborating to form this group muddy the waters between our services? Or in some way diminish what each service can provide on its own?
Thankfully, our relationship created a space of openness to air some of these challenges and work through them. We both held different experiences and expertise. Working with another practitioner takes you out of your comfort zone and can feel really exposing. We acknowledged this worry early on, and negotiated a way of offering one another reassurance as the group progressed.
The idea of engaging with a psychological support service holds many different meanings for different people; ideas such as psychological support being for people who lack resilience or who are struggling with severe mental illness. A third sector support organisation such as Maggie’s does not carry the same NHS associations and meanings for many people. Maggie’s centres are designed to be a non-clinical space, to feel more like a home, which give us access to physical and virtual spaces that feel less pathologising or stigmatising.
Alongside recruitment from the paediatric team’s waitlist, advertising the parent support group at Maggie’s enabled us to communicate an important message of this being a group relevant and open to all parents of children receiving treatment, not just those who are ‘referred’ to a Psychologist. It is often the case that those seeking support are ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.
At the core of our work is often the need to normalise and validate feelings such as anxiety, guilt and grief. In allowing an open recruitment process, we hoped to encourage the normalisation that living amidst your child’s diagnosis and treatment can be hugely challenging for anyone.
Access to the paediatric team’s waitlist of parents allowed us to speak to a large number of potential group members who had already sought out psychological support. Alongside practical elements, we were also able to use one another to carry motivation and momentum.
Interestingly no one dropped out.
I was concerned that not having people with the same diagnosis would be an issue. It wasn’t though.’ The sense of a shared experience emerged as representing something far greater and more important.
[I valued] learning that we are all fighting the same battle but in some ways all have had such different journeys. Learning everyone’s journey has helped me cope with mine.
It was a space where everyone just got what was going on. People without this in their lives try hard but don’t really know what you’re experiencing.
Although as clinicians we might have had trepidations about our different services and indeed our differing therapeutic approaches and perspectives, our experience was that our NHS/third sector collaboration enabled us to combine and consider varying perspectives from which to plan and deliver a group intervention. We were able to maximise the strengths of each of our services, allowing parents faster access to psychological support.
When we reflect on the process it’s important to acknowledge that sustaining momentum when setting up a group is hard but we want to encourage others to also take the plunge.
The collaboration is one that will continue, with a plan for Maggie’s and the paediatric and young adult psychological support service situated at The Royal Marsden to offer the group to parents throughout the year. Our hope is that this will continue to meet the needs of parents, and strengthen the relationship between our two services.’
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