On 26 and 27 April 2024, Christopher Deacon – partner in our Aviation and International Injury department – attended the European Spinal Psychologists Association (ESPA) Conference in Nijmegen, Netherlands. The conference was hosted at the Sint Maartenskliniek, the only specialised hospital for orthopaedics, rheumatology, rehabilitation and pain treatment in The Netherlands whose ethos focuses on getting people moving again.

Reflecting on the conference, Chris noted: “My experience of representing individuals with a spinal cord injury tells me that the psychological impact is often overlooked, be that because of resourcing or very often because the focus is on the individual’s physical recovery. My clients can need a good deal of coaxing to recognise the value of psychological intervention, particularly when viewed holistically and from a psycho-social perspective – something ESPA is passionate about. Psychologists’ work and research in this area is therefore an incredibly important part of improving outcomes and quality of life for SCI patients.”

Stewarts sponsored the Professor Paul Kennedy Scholarship, awarded to Dr Kimberley Monden for her research into the feasibility and preliminary outcomes of heart rate variability biofeedback in individuals with tetraplegia and anxiety.

At the end of the conference, Chris presented the Linda Hall Best Presentation Award to Dr Christel van Leeuwen for her presentation “Emotional Well-Being Toolkit – translation and implementation in the Netherlands”. The presentation demonstrated the toolkit’s potential in supporting the psychological wellbeing of spinal cord injury patients, and how it can be used by the wider multi-disciplinary team as well as clinicians in a hospital setting.

The runner up was Bethan Roberts, who presented feedback from a study at the NSIC Stoke Mandeville looking at better preparing patients for transition and admission to a specialist spinal cord injury centre. Chris commented: “Bethan’s presentation resonated with me given the feedback and experience of my clients when they are waiting for a specialist spinal cord injury rehabilitation placement. It is clear that expectation management and education of clinicians at referring hospitals, as well as patients, is key to improving the transition process.”

Other conference highlights included Dr Joost Baardman’s insight into the potential for virtual reality to complement traditional psychological therapies in pain management; and Dr Sophie Callis, Dr Jess Hare, Dr Olivia Ferrie Ferrie and Dr Bethany Thompson’s look at the value of a holistic approach to supporting patients outside of specialist rehabilitation centres.


More about the European Spinal Psychologists Association

Founded in 2005, ESPA is a networking organisation for psychologists, clinicians and researchers and those with an interest in psychological care after spinal cord injury. Its aim is “to provide the latest updates from our international colleagues in the field of spinal cord injury in conferences across the world”.

ESPA’s scientific conference aims to facilitate clinical research through a collaborative network, support development and dissemination of knowledge and practice of psychological aspects of spinal cord injury, whilst promoting the highest standards of care and bringing professionals together to do so.



You can find further information regarding our expertise, experience and team on our Aviation and International Injury pages.

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