SLaM Psychologist speaks of own experience with psychosis

Stories of Recovery and Hope

Media release
Tuesday 4 May 2011

A clinical psychologist from SLaM’s Psychosis Service has spoken about her own experience with psychosis in a new book, Psychosis: Stories of Recovery and Hope.

Emma Harding, from Tooting in South London, started experiencing psychosis while studying for a psychology degree. Now fully recovered, she works as a clinical psychologist at SLaM and works with people with psychosis.

Psychosis: Stories of Hope and Recovery captures a range of individual stories about patients living with psychosis. It presents their illness history, personal circumstances and what makes their particular story of treatment and recovery so unique and inspiring.

The book highlights many of the specific difficulties faced by individuals with a diagnosis of psychosis and schizophrenia, and their road to recovery.

Approximately 600,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with psychosis, with many facing discrimination about their condition and not receiving access to the best care. The book aims to provide a greater understanding of psychosis and present a positive outlook for patients and their carers.

Emma Harding first realised she was experiencing mental illness while studying at university in Canterbury. In her first year of university she began getting nervous and paranoid, hearing voices and whispers, and thinking that people were plotting against her.

She approached a university psychiatrist but didn’t mention the paranoia, instead describing depression. She was prescribed Prozac, but a few days later took an overdose of paracetamol which resulted in liver damage. Recovering from the overdose, she returned to university the next year but the hallucinations and delusions continued to get worse.

Emma’s parents fought for her to receive appropriate treatment, and she was eventually admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Emma’s initial response was, “I can’t have schizophrenia, I’m a psychology student!”

Emma credits a large part of her recovery to the clinical psychologist she worked with while in hospital.

”She was absolutely fantastic, she really took me under her wing and convinced my university to allow me to re-sit my exams,” Emma explains.

“Her approach to dealing with me was holistic, and she didn’t just try to get rid of the delusions or paranoia but asked how she could get me to where I wanted to be. I remember thinking, ‘I really want to be like you one day’. She really had time for me and believed in my recovery.”

With the help of her psychologist and appropriate medication, Emma began her recovery and completed her university degree. Upon graduating, she began working at a mental health trust as a support worker. She later transferred to the User Employment Programme, promoting employment rights for people with mental health problems.

Emma also began working as a media volunteer for mental health charity Rethink, talking about mental illness on programs such as Richard and Judy and Newsnight.

Through her participation on the user involvement panel for the clinical psychology course at the University of Surrey, Emma was encouraged to begin studying clinical psychology. After finishing the course in 2008, Emma has been working in SLaM’s Psychosis Service.

“SLaM’s Psychosis Service is very dear to my heart, as it deals with people who have psychosis and other problems like depression, anxiety or drug abuse. I use cognitive behavioural therapy, schema therapy and some psychodynamic ideas. I am also encouraging patients to join SLaM’s involvement register,” Emma said.

She is also currently helping the British Psychological Society to produce guidelines for psychologists on patient involvement.

“Mental illness doesn’t make you a bad person, or mean your life is over. It’s not something people need to be ashamed of or hide behind. It can be something to celebrate that can make your life unique and different,” Emma said of her experiences.

“There may be times when things aren’t going well and you get yourself in a rut, but you have to dig yourself out and move towards where you want to be, even if you don’t actually get there. There is a whole trail and tangent of experiences that have led you to wherever you are in life. Recovery is about not becoming jaded but looking to the future and accepting that there are interesting, new things to come.”

Psychosis: Stories of Hope and Recovery is illustrated with photos of patients, and explores recovery approaches and implications for working with patients. It also features contributions by a number of doctors who are leading specialists on the clinical aspects of psychosis and recovery approaches.

SLaM’s Psychosis Service specialises in expert, evidence-based treatment for people with complex and co-morbid psychosis, to enhance their quality of life through rehabilitation and recovery, and reduce the risk of readmission or expensive long-term care costs. SLaM has an internationally renowned team, pioneering treatment interventions and recovery rates not seen elsewhere.

Notes to editors:

  • Click here to read Emma’s full chapter on her experiences with psychosis and becoming a psychologist
  • Click here to order a copy of Psychosis: Stories of Recovery and Hope which is available from Quay Books for £19.99.
  • The doctors, nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists and psychologists who work within SLaM’s service are experts in their field, with the majority also undertaking research into the causes of psychotic disorders, and the effectiveness of both existing and new treatments.
  • Every person undergoes an assessment with the team, and an individual care plan is developed. As people are often a long way from home, we make admissions as short as possible, and communicate regularly with the referring team.
  • Click here for more information on SLaM’s Psychosis Service
  • The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) provides national services to people across the UK. It also provides mental health and substance misuse services for people living in the London Boroughs of Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham.
  • SLaM offers the most extensive portfolio of mental health services in the United Kingdom, supported by internationally recognised training and research. Each year, 5000 people receive hospital treatment, and 32,000 receive outpatient care. SLaM has a clinical and academic partnership with the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP), part of King’s College London.
  • For further information on the SLaM’s National Psychosis Service please contact Laura Crowden (020 3228 8584), National Services Media Office

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