Stroke affects approximately 6000 New Zealanders every year with around a quarter of those experiencing their first stroke aged under 65 years old. Survivors commonly experience emotional distress, which impacts negatively on the rehabilitation process.
Dr Charlotte Chalmers, 32, recently graduated with her Doctor of Clinical Psychology from Massey University. She completed her studies in 2018, before moving to London to work as a clinical psychologist until the end of 2020. Her doctoral studies investigated the experiences of stroke survivors aged between 18 and 65, and the efficacy of problem-solving therapy to reduce emotional distress and improve quality of life.
“There was limited research into the efficacy of non-pharmacological treatments for the experience of emotional distress following stroke, and even more so with younger stroke survivors,” she says.
“The results of my studies demonstrated that younger stroke survivors experience a number of different problems, with a large variability in how these problems affect them. The results also indicated that stroke survivors found the therapy helpful and enjoyable, and that support groups may be beneficial to mitigate post-stroke emotional distress.”
Dr Chalmers recommends education sessions that incorporate the stroke survivor, and their families or support persons. “These would be beneficial after the acute phase – when stroke survivors are reintegrating back into the community.
“Information could be provided regarding what common symptoms are, both visible and invisible, how they manifest, and beneficial ways for the stroke survivors and their family members to respond to these difficulties,” she says.
“It’s also recommended the sessions include speakers who are themselves stroke survivors, who could talk about what they experienced, what had been helpful or unhelpful for them, and recommend resources available in the community. I also think it would be beneficial for some form of support group to be set up for younger stroke survivors in order to reduce the isolation they often feel.”
Dr Chalmers, who already holds a Bachelor of Science majoring in psychology and education, and a first-class honours degree in psychology from Victoria University, runs her own private practice in Lower Hutt, offering clinical psychological assessment and therapy. She is expecting her first child with her husband Morgan in June.
“I would like to thank my supervisors at Massey, Professor Janet Leathem and Dr Simon Bennett from the School of Psychology, who were very supportive throughout the research process, as well as my husband Morgan and my lovely family.”