Carolyn Howard is a Senior Clinical Psychologist who has worked with cancer patients since 1995. She works full-time in Cancer Services at the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre.  The role of the Clinical Psychologist is to provide psychological assessment and intervention for cancer patients and their partners/carers who are receiving at least part of their treatment as a public patient in the Northern Sydney Local Health District.



Psychological Impact of a Cancer Diagnosis:

The diagnosis and treatment of cancer can have a significant impact on almost everyone who has this experience. Initial responses include:

  • Shock
  • Emotional numbness
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and fear.

It is important to recognise that partners, family and carers can also be affected by the individual's cancer diagnosis. These reactions are normal and usually settle down within 4-8 weeks of diagnosis. Individuals undergoing genetic testing (who may or may not have a current cancer diagnosis) can also experience the symptoms described above.

When psychological symptoms persist over a longer period of time (two weeks or more) an individual's quality of life can be affected and they may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. This is when seeing a clinical psychologist may be helpful to assist coping and adjustment.

Issues which may require Clinical Psychology:

  • Difficulty adjusting to diagnosis and treatment – feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
  • Anxiety, fear and panic symptoms
  • Phobic symptoms (such as claustrophobia, needle phobia, blood phobia)
  • Excessive and distressing worrying over the cancer diagnosis
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty communicating with partner, family, friends and workplace about the cancer journey
  • Body image and sexuality issues; coping with infertility
  • Difficulty coping with cancer as a couple
  • Post treatment adjustment issues (up to 2 years post treatment unless dealing with a recurrent/chronic cancer)
  • Difficulties coping with genetic testing and results
  • Decision making about treatment
  • Carer issues.

Psychological difficulties unrelated to the cancer journey are not appropriate for this service – issues must be related to the cancer diagnosis. Bereavement counselling is not available for family/friends – please contact grief support services.

What can a clinical psychologist offer?

A clinical psychologist can help patients learn ways of coping with the impact of cancer by learning skills to cope with treatment, the emotional impact of cancer and the unhelpful thoughts triggered by the cancer journey. Supportive counselling is also available for patients confronting existential and grief issues regarding their illness.

Couples can be seen regarding their coping with the cancer journey however relationship counselling / therapy are not available.


Patients may be referred by medical, nursing, allied health staff or Cansupport and can also self-refer. Patients must be receiving at least part of their treatment in the public health system in the Northern Sydney Local Health District.

Urgent cases

A crisis service is not available for urgent cases. Please contact mental health services in case of crisis.

Other Information

A GP referral is not required to see a clinical psychologist in the public health system. Only clinical psychologists in private practice require a GP referral.

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Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Level 1, Royal North Shore Hospital,
Reserve Rd,
St Leonards, NSW 2065

Finding Us: Patient sessions are held in the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, which is on Level 1, Royal North Shore Hospital. When entering the hospitals main entrance via Reserve Road, take the Orange Lifts (or stairs) in the hospitals main foyer on Level 3, down two floors to Level 1 and follow the signs to the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre.

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Monday to Friday
8am - 4.30pm

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02 9463 1189
02 9463