Working With People With A Brain Injury

Working With People With A Brain Injury

6th November, 2015

Sharon Buckland is a Senior Rehabilitation Worker at Headway Cambridgeshire. We asked her: 'What's it like working with patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury?' This is what she told us...

"The clients who come to our centre in Fulbourn have sustained their brain injuries in a variety of ways – it could be that they have been involved in a road accident or suffered a stroke or infection.

Unfortunately Addenbrooke's Hospital admits 20 people every day with brain injuries and so there is a continuing need for our services. Headway Cambridgeshire provides on-going help for people beyond their initial hospital treatment and rehabilitation.

My job involves running sessions with clients to help them to understand and better manage their injury and its effects on their lives. My focus is very much on promoting empowerment and independence.

I loved the job I had working with children but once I had children of my own I decided I wanted to put my energies into something that would make a real difference in peoples' lives.

At first I thought I wanted to work on the acute stage of the process - when injuries have just been sustained - but quickly realised that I preferred being involved in long- term care because then you are able to experience the ups as well as the downs alongside your clients.

I got a degree in Psychology and a master’s in Cognitive Neuroscience. I started working at Headway Cambridgeshire as a volunteer and after a while was offered a job on the staff.

Because you are working with people for long periods of time you often are the one constant health care professional in their lives and become like an extended family member.

Clients come to Headway because they really want to and it is heartening to see what the place means to them.

Sometimes the changes in people with brain injuries are very subtle and you have to be patient and build on these small shifts and improvements. I have had to learn all sorts of new skills such as how to speak to people who sometimes can't answer me.

We learn over time to communicate in different ways - with a slant of the mouth or an indication of the head and I always treasure these small acts of communication.

Sometimes people don't remember the work that we have done together the week or day before and you have to repeat things over and over again, but this is all part of the process. One day you will see someone singing during a session here at our centre - really joining in with a smile on their face - and it all seems worthwhile. It may only be a moment, but it's a good moment.

My biggest learning curve has been accepting what I can't do. I know now that I won't be able to help everyone and that sometimes things are happening in the lives of my clients over which I have no control.

When you are a student you imagine there will be a solution to everything, but sometimes there just isn't one.

You have to genuinely care to work with people who have been brain injured. You can't fake wanting to help and you need the ability to step back a little and acknowledge that it's about your client's journey and not your own.

The provision for people with brain injuries appears inconsistent to me, with some services available to some people and not to others.

It seems to depend on whom they have on their side and how well they are able to express what is needed. It's frustrating when I hear of people who haven't been able to access Headway's services and have consequently been struggling alone for years.

There just aren't enough resources to spread around to everyone who needs them.

Recently I ran 15 km though mud and over obstacles to raise funds for Headway Cambridgeshire.

My motivation was the desire to do something concrete. There just isn't enough money to do all we want to do. I finished the course, but I was still discovering new bits of mud a week later!

Joining Headway was the best thing that ever happened to me because I have discovered what it is I was always meant to do."

You can read more about Sharon's recent 15 km mud run here.

As a brain injured person it can sometimes be hard to feel positive about your progress but the gym instructor at Headway Cambridgeshire pushes me in the right direction and helps me to feel more enthusiastic about what I am able to achieve and what I might achieve in the future.