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Psychological Support Service for Members

The Service

The aim of the service is to provide psychological support for Heart Children Ireland members, specifically in connection with cardiac-related matters.

Service Recognition

Heart Children Ireland’s psychology service was shortlisted for an Irish Healthcare Award in 2017. The service was commended by the Awards Adjudication Panel for its “focus on improving patient care, innovation and collaboration”.

Psychology Service Co-ordinator

Dr. Deirdre O’Neill, a chartered clinical psychologist with decades of experience, coordinates the Heart Children Ireland Psychology Service, which is provided on a part-time basis. Dr. O’Neill has worked in community, health and education settings in Ireland and England, including in adult and paediatric hospitals in Ireland. Deirdre previously worked on the cardiology team at Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin (CHI) in Dublin.

Who Accesses the Service

Many Heart Children Ireland members have availed of the psychology service in different ways. These include:

  • Families who have recently received a prenatal cardiac diagnosis
  • Children and adolescents with congenital/acquired heart conditions
  • Adults with congenital/ acquired heart conditions
  • Family members supporting a person with a congenital/acquired heart condition
  • Bereaved families

Examples of some of the most frequently accessed supports

  • Individual / Family Psychological Support Meetings
  • Parenting Courses (around cardiac issues)
  • Information / Family Support Days
  • School Visits

Individual / Family Psychological Support Meetings

This is the area of the service in most demand. Family meetings are arranged where one or more family members request to meet the psychologist. Although the majority of these meetings have taken place in Dublin to date, Dr. O’Neill has offered such meetings across all 26 counties. There are many different reasons for Heart Children Ireland members to request a meeting with the psychologist. Individuals or families seek to attend for psychological support around dealing with the impact of a cardiac condition on their lives. For example:

  • Parents often identify concerns about anxiety, low mood, distress or trauma associated with their child’s cardiac diagnosis, treatment or prognosis.
  • Young people highlight frustrations in relation to health-related disruptions, restrictions and uncertainties as well as managing their peers’ responses to cardiac matters.
  • Adults explore issues regarding identity, roles and relationships in light of their health status.

Telephone support is also offered in relation to these issues. The particular therapeutic approach taken in the meetings or on the telephone depends on many different factors and is negotiated on an individual/family basis.


Parenting Courses: How to talk about Cardiac Matters

These courses usually consist of 4 sessions of 1 ½ hours. The atmosphere is relaxed and supportive. The aim is to explore key child development ideas, parenting strategies and practical approaches that may be helpful when:

  1. communicating with the child about his/her cardiac condition
  2. preparing the child to deal with responses from others in relation to the condition.

Managing the related concerns of the extended family and the impact of the condition on them is also considered. Parents have been very generous in contributing to the discussions at the meetings, in terms of sharing personal experiences, supporting each other and identifying helpful resources.

In practical terms, the groups are set-up to facilitate parents’ particular circumstances in each region. For example, a group in Carlow took place on a week night over 4 weeks, a group in Kerry took place over two Saturdays with 2 sessions on each day while groups in Dublin have taken place on weekday mornings. Dr. O’Neill is open to facilitating parenting courses around the country where there is enough interest. If you think that there might be enough interest from members in your area, contact Deirdre directly to discuss the matter further.

Information /  Family Support Days

The frequency, location and format of the Family Support Days has varied from year to year. Within the first 7 years of hosting these events, the team organised over 25 such occasions around the country. These events provide members with the opportunity to meet other members in their region while also meeting the Heart Children Ireland CEO, board members and the psychologist. As well as speaking on relevant topics and responding to questions in group discussions, Deirdre has also met families both informally, as well as more formally in family meetings, on these days.

School Visits

Dr. O’Neill has visited a number of schools on behalf of members, and at the invitation of families and the relevant school principals. Having previously worked as a full-time lecturer in Trinity College Dublin in the School of Education, Dr. O’Neill has a particular awareness of the issues that can arise for students and teachers around the impact of health-related matters in schools. Her role, where there is a specific need, is to provide support for the young person, his/her peers and/or the school staff, as appropriate, around the psychological aspects of living with a cardiac condition, be they social, emotional or learning related.

Other Supports

Dr. O’Neill provides a range of other services for the organisation. For example, she presents talks at conferences, provides support at coffee mornings in the Carmichael centre and at the annual bereavement service as well as contributing to submissions made by the organisation on matters such as health policy issues.

Cost of Attending the Service

Heart Children Ireland funds the service for members.


Here are some examples of feedback from members who availed of the Heart Children Ireland funded psychology service:

From a parent in a family where a number of members accessed the psychology service at different times over a few years

“I believe that the psychological services are one of the most important aspects of the work undertaken by Heart Children Ireland… while the surgical team and machines play a vital role in keeping [member’s children] alive, it is the work of [the Heart Children Ireland psychology service] that makes it possible for those lives to be lived well.”

From a parent whose family had to deal with a series of unexpected cardiac challenges in the years after diagnosis

“[Having used the psychology service] I have the tools to help [my children and husband] get through the days and nights. I have a life raft when I feel I am drowning in the weight of sickness, worry and fear.”

From a parent who accessed the service for both counselling and practical support

“I benefitted from counselling from Dr. O’Neill which helped me to deal with many of the residual traumas arising from the trauma of his birth. On a practical note,[Deirdre] helped me to plan my son’s next stay in hospital in advance.”

From a parent for whom a specific psychological programme was developed to address her daughter’s long-standing cardiac-related eating issues

“Because of her history of [cardiac-related] feeding and then eating problems and the medical concerns about her weight, mealtimes had taken over our family life for a long time. We dreaded every meal. You [the psychologist] helped me understand what happened and how the habits developed. You helped me understand the reasons underneath the ideas you gave me too. That’s why I relaxed and tried them! I didn’t believe things could change so smuch so quickly. I know it sounds dramatic but this has changed our lives. I can’t believe it”

From a parent who attended one of the parenting groups

“Thank you for a really useful, practical and insightful program.”

From a parent who attended a Heart Children Ireland Information and Support day

“My wife and I were very nervous about coming along today. We have been members for a while but this is the first [Heart Children Ireland] event we attended. We are so glad we took the chance. We got so many ideas today from the psychologist and met such lovely people.”

From a parent after the psychologist visited her son’s school and met staff

“The school understand him a lot more now. They are even coming up with more ways to help him in the classroom and the yard. I think that they are more confident in doing so after the [psychologist’s] visit. I can hear your words coming through them. It is a great relief.”

From an adult who accessed the psychology service

“It is good to talk. It is good to talk freely in a safe place that I don’t associate with treatment. My family and friends are great but they don’t always get my concerns about my health or they don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

Access to the Service

Heart Children Ireland members are most welcome to contact Dr. O’Neill directly with relevant queries or to request an appointment. Her contact details are as follows:

Dr. Deirdre O’Neill,
B.Sc. (Hons.) Applied Psychology, Dip Stats., D.Clin. Psychology, Prof. Dip., C. Psychol.
Chartered Clinical Psychologist
085 2739772 or

In relation to non-cardiac related psychological concerns, please be aware that your GP can refer you/ your child to the appropriate, local mental health service. In relation to educational assessments, it is suggested that you discuss the matter with the child’s teacher/ school psychologist.

Details about groups, information days etc are posted on the Heart Children Ireland Facebook page. (Please note that it is not appropriate for Dr. O’Neill to respond to members via Facebook.) In addition, members in the relevant counties are alerted by e-mail to upcoming events. If you are interested in receiving such e-mails, be sure that you provided permission to Heart Children Ireland to contact you in this way following the introduction of the GDPR regulations.

The Psychology Service continues to evolve. Do not hesitate to make contact with Dr. O’Neill (details above) if you have a query or would like to hear more about the services available.

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