An Overview from Sally Parr

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Sally Parr


Thank you to The UCH London Nurses’ Charity for the award of an education grant.

I am hugely grateful to the Charity that last year awarded me a grant which supported the cost of my attendance on The Understanding Trauma Course run by The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in London which I have recently completed. I have benefited immensely from the course as I was provided with the opportunity to learn from a team of therapists who were all experienced in the field of trauma. The course has enabled me to develop my understanding of
the impact on the mind of traumatic events as well the longer term and relational consequences of traumatic experiences. It has also deepened my awareness of the potentially powerful impact of this work on professionals, as well as myself which has directly influenced my work both with nursing staff and patients during the pandemic.

I originally trained as a nurse at UCH (set 247) qualifying in 1983. I specialised in intensive care nursing and spent more than a decade working in this environment before deciding to change career and retrain as a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist. For many years I have worked part-time, as service lead for a hospital cancer counselling service that provides 1:1 short term psychotherapy to those diagnosed with cancer and their supporters. As well as this the service also facilitates staff support for specialist nurses in the form of clinical supervision.

In 2020, several months into the pandemic, my team and I were asked to expand our role to provide support to the ward nursing staff who were suffering having been impacted by the distressing changes they had experienced as a result of Covid 19. My decision to undertake the above-mentioned course was partly precipitated by this request. However, I was also increasingly aware of the universal impact and experience of trauma elicited by the pandemic; this was manifesting in increased demand both in my private practice and my NHS work. The cancer counselling service has seen an increase in demand over the year as more patients experience UCH London Nurses’ Charity Magazine 17 greater anxiety and depression. Cancer patients have experienced a double blow; the trauma of the pandemic as well as the trauma of a cancer diagnosis, this has been reflected in a sustained increase of referrals to our service as our patients experience increased distress.

Nursing staff have also requested more support from my team so, with colleagues, we have explored ways to increase ease of access for staff who often find asking for help problematic. We have been able to offer health and well-being events as well as 1:1 support. Use of these services has ebbed and flowed as I believe that many hospital staff struggle to acknowledge their own needs and this is compounded by the fact that many staff are still in survival mode – “carrying on” whilst uncertainty prevails, needing to continue to protect themselves until they feel safe and “out of the woods”. The nurses that have contacted us have all been affected by an increased exposure to death and have found themselves in situations never experienced before. They frequently have had to work longer hours, in strange or unfamiliar environments, cover for ill colleagues, expose themselves to harm and risk in caring for patients with the virus. This has taken an emotional toll which has been evident in our work with them as they frequently report feeling tired, depressed and anxious. Nurses have had to provide emotional support to patients isolated and without access to their families, and have had to help families say goodbye remotely, and take the role usually provided by family members for those dying. All of this had created a perfect storm that continues to impact nurses’ emotional and psychological well-being and will continue to do so for many of us as we all find ways to recover from this trauma. My team and many teams like ours continue to offer staff support with the hope that the provision of good staff care will enable us all to better provide good patient care and to confirm for us all that the two are inextricably linked.

During the pandemic, I have been involved in a project set up by the British Psychotherapy Foundation which offers front-line staff 6 free sessions with an experienced psychotherapist. Please click the button for this service below:

Sally Parr
Psychoanalytic psychotherapist
Registered member of BPF & BPC (The British Psychotherapy Foundation
& British Psychoanalytic Council).

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