One on one... with Dr Michelle Hamill

We dip into the Society member database and pick… Dr Michelle Hamill, consultant clinical psychologist at East London NHS Foundation Trust. With online extras.

One thing psychologists should be proud of
Contributions to improving dementia care, from Tom Kitwood to Ian James, emphasising the centrality of relational understandings and relationship-centred care, through applied methods and research. We still have a way to go but their work in particular has helped to set the scene for further improvements.

One moment that changed my career
Working with Dr Laura Sutton, a brilliant consultant clinical psychologist, on my older adult placement as a trainee clinical psychologist. I didn’t want to leave after the six months ended and I was fortunate that she agreed to have me back for my third year to specialise further in CAT (Cognitive Analytic Therapy) and neuropsychology. I knew I had found my field working with older adults and I have never looked back.

One motto
‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’, Eleanor Roosevelt. A work in progress for me.

One thing I am proud of
The team of clinical psychologists and arts therapists that I work with across East London. Their energy and passion is uncompromising. They are always up for trying new things to improve service provision and address inequalities.

One book
Irvin D. Yalom’s Gift of Therapy. His writing is so accessible, human and wise. I dip in and out of this. To me it’s like getting a good dose of supervision.

One composer
I’d be lost without music. Einaudi is a favourite, especially I’m when travelling on the tube. I work with some brilliant music therapists, who are based on our inpatient wards. Their work is truly transformative. We co-facilitate psychology supervision and reflective sessions for the multi-disciplinary teams and often start by doing a mindfulness body scan to Einaudi, which sets the tone nicely. Thankfully, the importance of music therapy in dementia care is finally being recognised.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
Try to get involved in psychology research whilst at University. I didn’t appreciate or understand the wealth of opportunities and possibilities available for research whilst I was doing my undergraduate degree.

One surprising thing about older adult mental health
Trainees are often surprised by the change that is possible, regardless of a person’s age and presenting difficulties, and the extent of people’s resilience over many years despite complex trauma. This work really is a privilege. I don’t think many of us would stay in this job if that wasn’t the case.

One essential for self-care
Regular private CAT professional supervision / personal therapy. You can’t be a psychologist and not take your personal self to work. Making links between personal and professional relational patterns helps me to keep perspective.

One hope for psychology
To develop more opportunities for intergenerational service development and community-based initiatives, where people of all different ages can learn and socialise together, and ageism and ageist stereotypes can be challenged – that goes both ways between younger people and older adults, where the divide can feel very polarised especially given the current political climate. The Toddlers who Took on Dementia (with Professor Bob Woods) and Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds are great examples of how much change is possible given the right circumstances and relationships. We have a lovely developing partnership between CAMHS and our Older Adult Mental Health service, so watch this space.

One inspiration
My children, who keep me grounded. They bring me a whole other level of understanding of child developmental theories.

One regret
Spending too much time and energy having conversations in my head with other people. Time that could be better spent on other things.

One final thought
A must read, Being Mortal by Atul Gwande, which describes the medicalisation of aging, frailty, and death. He writes movingly about where ideas about death have gone wrong, doing more harm than good, and the importance of how to live a life with meaning, autonomy and dignity until the very end. We’ve been facilitating ‘Talking about Death and Dying’ experiential workshops for health and social care staff across East London for over 10 years. The aim is to help staff to have such conversations with people and families in their care, irrespective of age, given that this topic continues to be such a taboo for so many.

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