Psychosocial effects of spinal cord injury: Building capacity for clinicians

The Emotional Wellbeing Toolkit has been developed to provide clinicians with a better understanding of the impact of psychosocial issues for those adjusting to and living with a spinal cord injury.

A female clinician smiles while using a laptop.

As clinicians build confidence and competence in better understanding the impact of psychosocial issues, they can assist patients who are experiencing difficulties and engage appropriate support for them. The Emotional Wellbeing Toolkit: A Clinician's Guide to Working with Spinal Cord Injury, is now available as a blended online training program.

Access the Emotional Wellbeing Toolkit

A spinal cord injury (SCI) impacts many areas of a person's life. As people with an SCI learn to adapt to an entirely different and sometimes challenging lifestyle, they may also experience mental health issues.

icare provides support and care to 453 people living with SCI in NSW who have been injured on the road (as at 30 June 2020). This support includes treatment, equipment, attendant care services, home modifications and more.

Clinicians working in spinal cord injury units see a range of behaviours in patients that require specialist treatment. Research lead by Professor Ashley Craig of John Walsh Rehabilitation Centre showed that clinicians in SCI units didn't feel confident in addressing psychosocial issues, such as recognising depression and suicidality, as they didn't feel they understood these issues. This research led to the development of the Emotional Wellbeing Toolkit.

Annalisa Dezarnaulds and Helen Tonkin are the main authors of the toolkit. Annalisa is a clinical psychologist with over 20 years' experience working with SCIs. Based at Prince of Wales Rehab Spinal Injuries Unit in Sydney, she is the Chair of the Agency for Clinical Innovation's (ACI) State Spinal Cord Injury Service Psychosocial Steering Committee. The committee is focused on strategies to provide psychological education around SCI. Instrumental in Annalisa’s work is maintaining a voice for SCI issues, from acute to community settings.

"Psychosocial care is everyone's business; we want it to be part of business as usual for all people working with spinal cord injuries. As the needs of clients, staff and carers are addressed, we can expect improvements in clinical care," says Annalisa.

A closer look at the Toolkit

The Emotional Wellbeing Toolkit consists of discrete modules, including tools for clinicians focused on mood, anxiety, psychosis, alcohol and substance abuse, pain, sexuality, ageing, trauma-informed care and self-compassion. It provides an action plan, which is quick and easy to implement, as well as a clear pathway for clinicians to follow.

icare supported the development of the e-learning course as a way to make this vital training more accessible to all clinicians, especially those in regional and remote communities where support services are scarce. Early feedback from clinicians suggests the e-learning course and associated toolkit are both highly valued and easy to work through.

"We understand that a spinal cord injury can have an impact on a person's mental health, yet there are few psychologists within SCI rehab units. The toolkit provides clinicians with tools to increase their confidence and capability to manage the coexisting conditions," says Suzanne Lulham, General Manager, Care, Innovation & Excellence, icare.

The ACI provides the Emotional Wellbeing Toolkit as a free e-learning course open to all health professional graduates, students and support staff working with people who have sustained a SCI or similar condition.

Register to access the course