The health and social care system in England is ‘gridlocked’, according to the Care Quality Commission (CQC).1 The CQC reports that more than one in five people (22%) are currently on a waiting list for healthcare services, such as diagnostic tests, mental health services or an operation.
Of course, a gridlocked system doesn’t just affect patients. It also adds to the pressure on people who work in healthcare settings, including counsellors and psychotherapists.
So, it’s heartening, perhaps even remarkable, that so many counselling practitioners continue to develop and offer innovative and effective interventions to their clients. Practitioners such as Ronan Burke, a clinical psychologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Ronan explains how he has adapted and integrated cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) into his work with patients who have been diagnosed with a neurological condition, such as multiple sclerosis or brain tumour. Ronan demonstrates with skill and compassion how CAT can help a patient with multiple sclerosis or brain tumour to make sense of their diagnosis and symptoms.
Dementia is one of the most common neurological conditions in the UK: there are around 900,000 people with dementia, a number that is expected to rise sharply in the future.2 We should all, therefore, welcome a University College London study, which found that Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services alleviate depression and anxiety in people living with dementia. As Georgia Bell, Josh Stott and Amber John write, the research challenges assumptions that people living with dementia do not benefit from talking therapies. It also points once more to the effective interventions offered by clinicians in healthcare settings.
Surely, it’s better to prevent than cure pain? And not just better physically, but also psychologically, socially and economically? Tonia Anderson and Dr Gina Wong certainly think so – and they believe that counselling could be at the forefront of chronic pain prevention. They call for pre-operative screening to assess not only biological but also psychosocial risk factors for pain management and recovery. It would require a radical shift in approach and thinking, but it could also relieve distress – and free up some of that gridlock.
The pandemic and its aftermath have added to the strain on the healthcare system and its workforce. The psychological fallout is only just beginning to be understood, but many experts believe that healthcare staff are experiencing ‘moral injury’, which has previously been recognised primarily in a military context.
‘Counselling could be at the forefront of chronic pain prevention'
Again, counsellors and psychotherapists are developing innovative ways to alleviate psychological distress. And they don’t come much more innovative than a residential retreat that uses indigenous talking circles to enable people to share and reflect on their experiences, as Alison O’Connor explains.
All our contributors demonstrate a desire to help others, as do many of the people who work in healthcare settings. But what happens if the desire becomes more of an obsession? Jess Baker and Rod Vincent describe ‘super-helper syndrome’, when helping others is not so much compassionate as compulsive. If left unchecked, super-helper syndrome can lead to exhaustion, resentment, exploitation and self-criticism. But we must look after all the helpers, as we need them now, perhaps more than ever.