Mind the heart: Understanding cardiac psychology

February 28, 2019
Mind the heart: Understanding cardiac psychology
Allen Kramer, Texas Children's Hospital

The referral

You’re finishing up your child’s lengthy cardiology appointment, which was filled with testing, guidance from multiple health professionals and recommendations to move forward with. “Lastly, we’re going to refer you guys to our psychologist.”

Wait – what?

Your immediate thoughts might include: “We don’t have time for that” or “My child isn’t crazy!”

We know your child isn’t crazy. Take a deep breath! Should you receive a psychology referral for your heart warrior, I hope this blog covers most of the basics.

What is cardiac psychology?

It might be self-explanatory for some, but allow me to elaborate. I’m a cardiac psychologist, meaning I practice a specialization of health psychology focused on addressing the unique day-to-day challenges faced by pediatric cardiology patients.

I follow each patient (and their family) through every stage of the heart journey, ranging from initial diagnosis up to adulthood. We know managing a child’s heart condition isn’t easy work, so imagine the cardiac psychologist as another partner on your care team to lean on.

We’re here to provide personal guidance through the ups and downs of managing a heart condition – accepting a diagnosis, remembering medications, living with a device, adjusting to school, returning to physical activity – the list goes on.

Does my child really need to see a psychologist?

This particular question is tricky to answer without knowing your child and family. For instance, one patient may be recommended to visit with a cardiac psychologist regularly while another may only return should a certain issue arise. The bottom line – your medical team is interested in giving your family an additional source of support, which isn’t necessarily available everywhere.

Even if you’re wary about meeting with a psychologist, an initial appointment is often helpful. We can discuss your concerns and address any specific questions you might have.

Why is cardiac psychology necessary?

The cardiac psychologist at Texas Children’s Heart Center will work with a patient’s medical team to identify any challenges a family might experience while managing a heart condition and navigate their resulting impact.

According to medical research, nearly 10 percent of cardiology patients experience symptoms associated with depression and other mood disorders while roughly 30 percent of patients report anxiety. More specifically, nearly 85 percent of children and young adults with implantable cardiac devices (e.g., pacemakers, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators) report avoiding a range of activities and interactions post-implant.

A cardiac psychologist can assist your child in returning to medically approved and supported activity by helping build adaptive coping techniques, challenging unhelpful thoughts and allowing children to practice being uncomfortable to reduce anxiety.

Now what?

If you obtain a referral for evaluation with a cardiac psychologist, pursue the opportunity! Expect to spend an hour or so during your first visit getting to know your provider, asking questions, addressing relevant cardiac-related concerns and identifying changes in your child’s mood or behavior.

Together, we can find ways to mind the heart and help your child live their life to the fullest.

For a copy of patient file on adaptive strategies for young patients with cardiac devices, click here. If you’re interested in learning more about Texas Children’s Heart Center, click here.

Post by:

Katherine Cutitta, PhD

Dr. Cutitta approaches clinical care as a collaborative coach, learning to understand her patients and improve daily functioning with regard to health related behaviors.  Dr. Cutitta works with the family unit, as well as the individual patient, to help improve quality of life, establish...

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