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Counselling Patients with a Spinal Cord Injury

The aim of this study was to improve current counselling services at the Auckland Spinal Unit. This purpose was achieved by co-researching the topic with people who have extensive experience of living in the community with a spinal cord injury to reveal what they believe was helpful, or believe would have been helpful, in terms of the counselling, when they were newly injured. Listening to the stories of the research participants, through supervision of my own practice, doing a literature review and writing a journal became sources that provided rich knowledges to reflect on my current counselling practice. A qualitative study was conducted using aspects of action research, feminist research and post-structuralist methods. In November 2005, an information pack was mailed to the sixteen patients who had been discharged from the Auckland Spinal Unit between June 2002 and June 2004, who were under the age of sixty -five and lived in the Auckland area, inviting them to participate in this research. Seven people agreed and were available to participate. I interviewed these seven participants, using unstructured interviews. All the interviews were audio-taped and then transcribed verbatim. These verbatim transcripts were then sent back to the participants for any additions/deletions/alterations they chose to make. To initiate the reflecting process, I then went through all the interviews and identified common themes. I understand that if the research participants had been involved in this process, other themes might have emerged for them. The themes identified were loss and grief as a result of a spinal cord injury, sexuality, family (whanau) involvement and how counselling services should be positioned in a setting such as the Auckland Spinal Unit. These themes formed the iii foci of the chapters, with an additional chapter on weaving cultural threads into counselling. The main findings of the study centre on the very important role of counselling at the Auckland Spinal Unit. In particular, the study highlighted the importance of counselling as a place for conversations that make room for multiple positionings and multiple versions of events, a space that respects a patient's hopes, beliefs and dreams for his/her life (which often does not include wheelchairs, catheters and caregivers) but that also supports the patient to make meaning of living life with a spinal cord injury. The study also identified the importance of sexuality counselling. Not including sexuality as a topic in the rehabilitation services provided perpetuates dominant discourses that a person with a spinal cord injury does not want sexual intimacy or cannot be sexually intimate and cannot have children. Family (whanau) involvement in and family's becoming part of the rehabilitation team was very important to most participants. This study looks at how this involvement can be achieved and explores some of the structures currently in place at the Auckland Spinal Unit to facilitate this involvement. Participants in this study expressed a desire for counselling to be highly accessible to both themselves and their families (whanau). They would prefer the counsellors to get to know the patients in their own environment first (in their rooms), so that the patients are positioned to have agency to make choices about how they would like to use the available counselling services. The study concludes with my personal journey of working as a counsellor at the Auckland Spinal Unit and how this research has shaped and fine-tuned my practice.
Type of thesis
Sliedrecht, S. (2007). Counselling Patients with a Spinal Cord Injury (Thesis, Master of Counselling (MCouns)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2426
The University of Waikato
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