Emotional Impact of SCI (Clinical Psychology)

The following information has been put together by the NSIC Clinical Psychology team and is based on many years’ experience working alongside people with spinal cord injuries and their families.

It is also drawn from research aiming to better understand what it is like to live with spinal cord injury, as well as general evidence about enhancing emotional health and wellbeing.

Everyone’s experience of spinal cord injury is different

    • Not everything here will be meaningful or relevant to you
    • You may find you need different things at different times
    • Please always feel able to ask any member of your clinical team or Keyworker for more information
    • Or contact the clinical psychology team directly if you need help.

If you only remember one thing from this information, it should be that there is no ‘correct’ way to respond to a spinal cord injury.
Whatever you are feeling is likely to be a normal and natural part of the adjustment process.

Emotional responses to SCI

People who sustain spinal cord injuries describe feeling a wide range of emotions.

These can include:

    • Feeling stressed and overwhelmed, as if the demands on you are more than you can handle
    • Feeling anxious & fearful
    • Feeling low in mood, consistently sad, unmotivated or even hopeless
    • Feeling a sense of grief or loss
    • Feeling anger or disbelief at what has happened
    • Feeling regretful or even guilty, perhaps blaming yourself for your spinal cord injury

For some people, arrival at the NSIC can underline the impact of their spinal cord injury.

    • Moving between different hospitals can also be difficult, with the need to learn new ‘rules’ and routines and often being further away from family and friends.
Although these reactions are common and normal, not everyone will experience them.
    • Some people report a new sense of strength or feeling more ‘robust’ than they expected to.
    • Some people notice a new clarity or perspective about their lives and what’s important to them.
    • Some people struggle to know how they are feeling, and may feel numb or emotionally detached for a while.
It may help to know that after the acute phase of injury and with the right support in place, quality of life does not diminish for most people compared with before their injury.
    • This may surprise you, but we consistently see evidence for it in research studies and in our clinical work.
    • Life may not be the same as before your injury.
    • However, the values underlying the way you used to live your life – such as connection with others, challenging yourself or making a meaningful contribution – can still underpin the things you do.  

Why is it worth seeing a clinical psychologist?

“I wish I’d known I could ask to be referred sooner.  It helped so much to be able to talk about the way I was feeling”.  Patient – Donald

Most people see a clinical psychologist at some point during their rehabilitation 
    • Clinical psychologists are available to support you in managing your emotional health.
    • Psychological therapy can help you maintain a sense of control over your life, and support you to cope and adjust to the future. 
    • It can be an opportunity to talk fears and anxieties in a private and confidential setting. 
    • Sometimes, linked with your injury, are other concerns such as pain; worries about relationships, sexual functioning and intimacy; and problems with memory. 

If you or your family would like to talk to either a clinical psychologist or family counsellor, you can ask any member of staff to contact our office, or come and speak with us yourself. 

We are based upstairs in the NSIC, in the corridor just before St Andrew Ward.

Family counselling service

Friends and family may also be experiencing significant challenges, and that is why we have a dedicated family counsellor as part of our team.

    • Professional counselling support is offered to any family member or friend of a patient during their stay at NSIC. This is a free of charge service.
    • A confidential space is offered with a qualified counsellor, and can be used in various ways.
    • Sessions can be a safe place to explore feelings, thoughts and concerns that may be experienced during this time, to make sense of the current situation, to develop strategies for coping that work for you, to help to understand and prioritise if feeling overwhelmed, and also offer support in accessing other services. 
    • Contact can be 30-60 minute planned face-to-face sessions, telephone counselling, video-conferencing or informal, unplanned support where possible. 
How to contact us

Clinical Psychology office

Phone: 01296 838355

email: bht.nsicpsychology@nhs.net

Family Counselling service

Phone: 01296 838402

email: kim.broom1@nhs.net 

Self help information leaflets

The following leaflets can all be found on racks on each of the wards, or obtained direct from the administration office in the Department of Clinical Psychology:

    • Coping with Spinal Cord Injury
    • Coping with Anxiety
    • Memory Difficulties and Spinal Cord Injury
    • Coping with Depression
    • Coping with Chronic Pain
    • Coping Effectiveness Training
    • The Stoke Mandeville Spinal Needs Assessment and Goal Planning Programme
    • Supporting Children when their parent has a Spinal Cord Injury