Psychology and Parkinson’s

Adjusting to a diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease

"My experience of being a Psychologist with people who have Parkinson's is that I'm often amazed at the inbuilt resilience and determination people have to improve their situation."

Dr Ruth Lewis-Morton, a Clinical Psychologist with the Parkinson's Service at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board
Dr Ruth Lewis-Morton

Receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease can take time to understand and adjust to. Understandably, there are often many complex feelings associated with a new diagnosis.

Some people feel anxious and fearful about the future, some feel angry at themselves for not spotting the symptoms sooner and others may try to avoid or deny their symptoms and try to carry on as normal. Other people may feel relieved to have a diagnosis, or hopeful that treatment can help them feel better.

Talking to other people you trust can help to process complex emotions. Sometimes, people say they do not wish to burden family members or friends and would prefer to talk with someone neutral.

Parkinson’s UK have a helpline to support people to discuss issues such as these. Call 0808 800 0303.

How can a Clinical Psychologist help?

Dr Ruth Lewis-Morton, a Clinical Psychologist with the Parkinson’s Service at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board explains how a Clinical Psychologist can support people to understand their emotions after a diagnosis of Parkinson’s.  

Clinical Psychologists can help with the following:

  • Adjusting to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s and the psychological changes that go along with this
  • Worry or anxiety
  • Low mood or depression
  • Difficulties with sleep
  • Seeing or hearing things that other people do not (hallucinations)
  • Changes in relationships and interactions with others
  • Supporting with ways of managing pain, discomfort or physical symptoms
  • Helping with complex feelings that may be associated with the diagnosis such as loss, shame, guilt or self-criticism
  • Supporting with ways of being compassionate towards oneself
  • Memory or concentration difficulties
  • Supporting carers or family members

Psychological Approaches

These approaches have been found to be helpful for people with Parkinson’s.

Compassionate Mind

A psychological approach called Compassionate Mind, developed by Professor Paul Gilbert OBE (University of Derby), has been effective for a wide range of psychological and physical conditions. This approach helps with our understanding of the interactions between our experiences, feelings, thoughts and behaviours. It has an evolutionary focus which helps us to make sense of the interactions between our feelings and our thoughts. It also prioritises a focus on developing compassion and on soothing the mind and body to help relieve distress.

To find out more about a Compassionate Mind approach, and how this could help you, take a look at the videos below developed by Dr Ruth Lewis-Morton from Cardiff and Vale University Health Board’s Parkinson’s service, animated by Anna Adoniu.  

These videos were developed for the My Parkinson’s website.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) encourages the awareness and understanding of patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The idea of CBT is to learn more about the link between our thinking, how this can influence our feelings and in turn impact upon our behaviour. CBT involves understanding our cognitions or thoughts and also involves behavioural exposure or experiments to put into practice what has been discussed during the therapy. There are a number of CBT online courses that can help people who experience mild to moderate anxiety or depression.

Mindfulness

A Mindfulness approach encourages people to be present in the here and now. It encourages our ‘soothing system’ to be activated to help calm our body and mind. It is common for people to have criticising thoughts or uncomfortable feelings, such as frustration, whilst practicing mindfulness. We are very accustomed to our minds being active and often focused on the future or the past. The ‘Mindfulness’ invitation is to notice this happening and gently refocus on something in the here and now, such as your breathing.

Click here to find out more about mindfulness.

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