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Clinical psychology

The cleft clinical psychology service provides emotional and psychological support to patients who were born with a cleft lip and/or palate, and their families. There is support available from the cleft psychologists at any stage of life, whether you are a child, young person or adult, expecting a baby with a cleft, or whether you are supporting someone along the cleft journey.

Working as part of your healthcare team

Clinical psychologists are part of the cleft lip and palate team. We work closely with other healthcare professionals within the team and the wider hospital, as well as mental health professionals, social care and nurseries, schools and colleges across the South West region.

The core team is based in the regional headquarters in the Bristol Dental Hospital and includes a consultant clinical csychologist, specialist clinical psychologist and an assistant psychologist. However, we also have a number of 'link' cleft psychologists who provide outreach services across the whole of the South West region who will be able to provide support in your locality.

How we support you

Clinical psychologists are involved with patients and families from the first time they attend an appointment with the cleft lip and palate service. This means we are involved throughout the cleft pathway, from diagnosis onwards, and are on hand to provide advice and support whenever it is required.

Our main role is to provide psychological and emotional support to patients (child or adult) and their parents and families. We attend multi-disciplinary Cleft Review and Audit clinics (at 5, 10, 15 and 20 years of age) with other members of the cleft team. We provide a routine appointment for all children born with a cleft palate around the age of three. We also offer individual support for patients and/or their families for any cleft-related concerns, including:

  • Coming to terms with a diagnosis
  • Education and  information regarding the cleft and associated conditions
  • How to talk about the cleft and what to say to friends and family
  • Dealing with the attitudes of others, including potential teasing or bullying
  • Preparing for surgery, dental treatment, or any other procedure
  • Behaviour management, e.g. feeding, sleeping, toileting, anger difficulties
  • Support around decision-making with regards to elective treatment
  • Low mood or anxiety in relation to the cleft
  • Building confidence, self-esteem and social skills
  • Concerns about appearance and body image
  • Concerns about development, learning and education
  • Preparing for change, e.g. change of school/college, moving house, surgery, relationships

We conduct thorough psychological assessments and work in collaboration with patients and families to establish goals for treatment. We use a range of evidence-based psychological approaches, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR).  When working with young people, our appointments might include talking, drawing, playing, games and puzzles. Appointments tend to take place at the hospital where you attend cleft clinics, although we also visit homes, nurseries, schools and colleges across the region.

We also attend Cleft Coffee Mornings along with the cleft nurses and speech and language therapists so that new parents can meet others and ask questions in a relaxed and informal environment. We continue to provide support to parents and children as they move from primary to secondary school through group work held in activity centres throughout the region.

In addition, cleft psychologists carry out service evaluations in order to improve our service, as well as research into the psychological and emotional impact of being born with a cleft.

How to access our service

The clinical psychology team attend cleft clinic appointments to help us identify the patients and families who may benefit from additional psychological support. Referrals are also made from other healthcare professionals within the team, with your consent. Patients and families can also self-refer by speaking to one of the cleft team or calling the main number and asking to speak to a psychologist.

We are happy to chat with you on the telephone initially to discuss how we can help. It doesn't have to be a big problem before you contact us. We recognise it may be hard for many people to request a referral to the psychology team, but we are aware of the challenges being born with a cleft may present, and we are here to provide advice, expertise and support to help you along the way. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions about how we may be able to help.

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