Heart disease, whether congenital or acquired in the course of a lifetime, can entail a number of problems at the psychological level for the affected individual and the family unit to which he or she belongs.
The purpose of hospital psychological support is to minimise these consequences, on the person and on the caregivers.
The aim is to move away from the narrow view of pathology and work on improving the quality of life by supporting the person him/herself and the family in a multidisciplinary and integrated manner.
It has been found that after a serious cardiac event, the patient may experience states of anxiety and depression, and in some cases develop symptoms typical of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Failure to take appropriate action can compromise the chances of recovery, both psychological and physical.
Within the pathway of patients with congenital or acquired cardiovascular disease, one of our goals is also to provide, where necessary and possible, follow-up on the psychological aspects involved in the hospital and post-hospital experience.
This, by involving both the patient and the family member in a multidisciplinary and integrated pathway, allows the person in all his or her subjectivity and humanity to feel placed at the centre, and not simply the object of a medical-surgical treatment.
There are, in the vast majority of cases, ample possibilities – for the person with heart disease – to be able to lead a dignified and meaningful life with a positive outlook. One of the goals of psychological work is to help the person remove emotional obstacles that can hinder the achievement of that goal.
Innovative psychotherapeutic techniques, such as Mindfulness and EMDR, aim to improve the quality of life of the person suffering from heart disease and to minimise stress and post-traumatic consequences deriving from the experience of illness.
Our aim is to turn a difficult experience, which marks the lives of so many children, adults and their families, into a positive resource, helping congenital heart patients overcome the problems of adolescence and reach adulthood, aware of their limitations but also of their resources.
The entire health team is at the service of families at every stage of life, from the moment of pre-natal diagnosis to early childhood, in the delicate transition from paediatric to adult, (as in the grown-up congenital heart (GUCH) pathway), all the way through to their elderly years.
In the case of heart disease or cardiovascular disorders acquired during the life cycle, the aim is instead to encourage good adaptation to a new condition, helping the person to understand his or her disease, to encourage functional behaviour and healthy lifestyles, and to promote a good quality of life.
In these pathways, a fundamental role is also played by associations such as “Un cuore, un mondo” and “AICCA”, both in the delicate phases of the families’ hospital pathways and in the process of integrating the heart patient into the social fabric. For example, by raising awareness of important issues, such as the possibility of playing sports, when the clinical condition allows it; obtaining a driving licence, an important step towards the person’s autonomy; or in the path to motherhood. All these purposes have the ultimate aim of helping the person to feel freer and less conditioned by their “experience of illness”. All this also takes place by promoting participation in voluntary activities, associations and “peer to peer support”.
Since 2017, an ECM-certified Mindfulness training workshop for the management of work-related stress and the prevention of burnout has also been available to FTGM health personnel.
The course consists of JK Zinn’s original MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) protocol: 8 weekly group meetings for a total of 3 editions per year, during which staff are taught psycho-corporeal techniques for regulating their own levels of psycho-physiological activation, managing emotions, thoughts and stress. Regular mindfulness follow-up and re-training sessions are also carried out for all those who have participated in the basic protocol.
It has been found that after a serious cardiac event, the patient may experience states of anxiety and depression, and even develop symptoms typical of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Failure to take appropriate action can compromise the chances of recovery, both psychological and physical.
For example, two experimental studies have been conducted in patients who have experienced serious cardiac events to test the effectiveness of the EMDR nmethod in treating PTSD symptoms, such as anxiety and depression developed in the postoperative period. The treatment proved effective in reducing post-traumatic symptomatology, reducing both state and situational anxiety, and reducing depressive symptoms. Six months after the end of treatment, these patients found that these benefits persisted.
Within the pathway of patients with congenital or acquired cardiovascular disease, one of our goals is also, therefore, to provide, where necessary and possible, follow-up on the psychological aspects involved in the hospital and post-hospital experience. Involving both the patient and the family member, in a multidisciplinary and integrated pathway, which can make the person feel placed at the centre in all his or her subjectivity and humanity, and not simply the subject of a medical-surgical treatment.
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