A specialist Cambridgeshire rehabilitation community has helped to bridge the gap left by lockdown between relatives and therapists through its ‘Ask the Therapist’ forum.

Today is Time to Talk Day, a day to get people to talk about their mental health. It is also a day Askham Rehab is hoping to raise awareness around the mental health of residents’ relatives; many of whom have felt discontented since the start of the pandemic.

Ask the Therapist

Askham Rehab started their Ask the Therapist sessions last August. The monthly, online calls provide a place where relatives of residents with complex brain injuries can receive support and advice from Askham’s multidisciplinary team.  

The sessions rotate between therapists specialising in the neurological fields of psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language. The aim is to allow relatives to spend time with each therapist team. Relatives get up to date information on their loved ones’ treatment, education on their pathway, as well as general advice on brain injuries. They then also build a rapport, and gain the knowledge needed in preparation for their loved one’s discharge.

Keeping up connections

Priscilla Masvipurwa, Chair of the Askham Rehab Quality Improvement Board, said, ‘When the pandemic came, we soon realised we had lost the voice of our relatives. While they were still calling in or contacting us via email, we lost the daily 1-on-1 conversations they had with our therapists.

‘We decided we needed a forum where relatives could be part of an informal setting and seek advice on brain injuries with our therapists. By having a group, the relatives had the chance to meet with others who were going through very similar journeys. It created a confidential space where they could learn from and support each other.’

Emotional support

One of the key successes to have come out of the Ask the Therapist sessions so far has been the number of relatives Askham has been able to offer emotional support to. While it is the people undergoing rehabilitation that get direct treatment from therapists, it is important not to forget their relatives are also impacted. Their relatives should also have an outlet to seek help and advice.

Priscilla said, ‘The initial idea was to actually offer teaching sessions, but we quickly realised that would just close people off from expressing their concerns and struggles. Ask the Therapist has created a place where people experiencing the same circumstances can advise each other on how they are coping. It has turned into a productive space where educational and emotional support is given.’

She continued, ‘Relatives just want someone to talk to. Sometimes they aren’t even on the radar of therapists and we didn’t want that happening at Askham. Ask the Therapist allows us to reach out to the relatives and if any of them need more support we can assess that in the informal meetings and signpost or initiate some kind of therapy outside of the sessions.’

Success

Priscilla said, ‘The positive feedback has been overwhelming, and has led to possible plans to open the session up to the wider community in the near future. We’re grateful to be able to offer this service to our users and I’d like to encourage others to explore wellbeing schemes that allow people to seek out help and support, especially during these mentally challenging times. Time to Talk day is all about being able to offload any struggles and while that should be championed, it should also be encouraged year-round.’

Aliyyah-Begum Nasser, Director at Askham, said, ‘As a family business with for over 30 years’ experience, we truly understand the value and power of family relationships and are keen to ensure that our patients can channel the strength and support of their families into helping them fulfil their rehab potential.’