Navigating crises after SCI

It can be challenging to navigate the crises of intimacy after a SCI, but this is where sexual rehabilitation can assist

Danie Breedt
By Danie Breedt
3 Min Read

It can be challenging to navigate the crises of intimacy after a SCI, but this is where sexual rehabilitation can assist

For a new spinal cord injured patient, life is all about surviving the current crisis. As the initial trauma and storm of medical complications subside, the focus moves to living with the injury. This is what physical rehab and sexual rehab is all about – making the most of what you have left. After discharge, life can feel like moving from one crisis to the next as you incorporate your injury into life. The same process is common with sex and intimate relationships.

The crisis of “will I ever be able to have sex again” often occurs quite early after being diagnosed with a spinal cord injury. There are two difficulties in this crisis. The first is that there is often no support available to guide patients during this stage through emotional support and relevant information in rehab. The second difficulty is that patients are often unaware of the availability of such services. In either case it often happens that people don’t receive the assistance that they need and are left to figure it out for themselves.

A very common second crisis is the lack of intimacy and struggling to build new romantic relationships. Being isolated is dangerous to emotional well-being and has the tendency to snow-ball. When you are isolated for long periods of time, it is easy to stop pursuing relationships and become even more isolated. This cycle often leads to people with disabilities not experiencing intimacy and satisfying sexual needs. Everybody goes through crises in their lives, and we all need some form of support in these times. Spinal cord injuries bring unique challenges and crises but also requires support like every other type of crisis. Finding support in the form of education and emotional support for sexual difficulties could mean the difference between having a sexually satisfying relationship and having some of our most important intimacy needs going unfulfilled.

Seeking professional assistance for sexuality related crises should be on the top of the list for ourselves as well as the ones we care for. Doing some of your own research about where you can access such services or asking your primary care physician for a referral are great places to start. It can also be helpful to join groups of people with similar difficulties as helpful resources are often shared among members. You’ll likely find that crises that feels unique to you are often quite common.

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Danie Breedt
By Danie Breedt Psychologist
Danie Breedt is a passionate scholar-practitioner in the field of psychology. He divides his time between training future psychologists, research and clinical practice. Danie works from an integrative interactional approach in therapy dealing with a wide range of emotional difficulties. He is currently working as a psychologist at numerous physical rehabilitation hospitals across Gauteng for Charis Psychological Services where he does supportive counselling as well as sexual education for patients with disabilities. Column courtesy of Charis Psychological Services.
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