Submitted by Kelsey Harris (Owner, Physical Therapist) and Sarah Barker (Mental Health Therapist) of NeuroAxis Rehabilitation Services

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s essential to recognize and honor the unique challenges faced by individuals living with spinal cord injuries (SCI). Kelsey and Sarah of NeuroAxis Rehab delve into the importance of addressing the mental health needs of both individuals with SCIs and their caretakers.

Close your eyes, count to one, and then open your eyes…That is how fast your life can change.

One second is all that it takes for your life to be flipped upside down and strip you from any sense of “normalcy” that you once knew. It can take one second for your life to go from chasing your child around the house, playing sports with your friends, driving to work, to laying in a hospital bed and not being able to move your body how you once could. It can happen to any of us, at any time.

The first few days, weeks and months after an injury are focused on becoming medically stable and starting the physical recovery that’s associated with a spinal cord injury… but what about the mental recovery?

As therapy begins, the daily tasks that were once simple become daunting and might feel impossible causing you to question what your future is going to look like. Will I be able to hold my child again? Can I drive? Will I be able to get a shower on my own? Can I get back to playing hockey with my friends again? Anger, frustration, grief, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other adjustment disorders commonly go hand in hand with these major life changes.The loss of independence, the fear of the unknown for the future, body image, and changes in relationship dynamics can begin to overtake the psyche and impact the individual’s overall recovery.

At NeuroAxis Rehab, our goal is to help you work through those emotions and channel the frustrations in a way that promotes continued recovery. We have seen countless individuals experience these emotions, but, when they become all consuming, these emotions limit the progression of physical recovery, which in turn, causes increased mental anguish, and the cycle continues.


Addressing mental health needs for these individuals is a crucial piece of treatment planning when considering their overall well-being and recovery. Rehabilitation programs, like those offered through NeuroAxis Rehab, that combine mental health services with physical, occupational, and speech therapies provide an opportunity for better outcomes for those in their recovery journey. Mental health services provide a safe place for patients to discuss things such as fears for the future, frustrations regarding changes in their lives, and their hopes for recovery and their life ahead. Whether in a group setting or individual sessions, combining the therapies gives the patient a whole-body approach, addressing both physical and mental aspects of their well-being and recovery.

Coping with a new diagnosis after a traumatic experience requires resilience and adaptability. Patients often find success within recovery and their mental health through building relationships with those who share similar experiences. Support groups help those struggling find understanding and empathy as well as advice. Other great additions to their recovery toolbox include learning some mindfulness practices, realistic goal setting, and learning coping skills to help them embrace their life’s new normal.

The journey of rehabilitation is made up of goals both large and small. Realistic goals help to empower patients and focus on their progress rather than their struggles or setbacks. Celebrating achievements, no matter what the size, provides a sense of accomplishment and motivation to keep the individual moving forward. Focusing on the strength and determination it takes to master a new skill during the rehabilitation journey is all part of embracing the positivity in the process.


Using custom adaptive equipment to be able to make a cup of coffee independently in the morning!

Adapting to your new environment and life means understanding what your new normal might look like. Part of your recovery journey is about finding joy and fulfillment in your life despite new and challenging circumstances. Whether you are exploring old hobbies and relearning how to manage them, or pursuing new interests, there are many ways to find a fulfilling lifestyle post-injury or diagnosis. Understanding what we have control over and what we do not is the first step is embracing a positive mindset.

Although the spinal cord injury diagnosis is life-shattering for the individual enduring the spinal cord injury, it is also important to consider the mental and physical health of that individual’s family and caregiver(s).

The caregiver(s) of an individual with a spinal cord injury are often required to take on new responsibilities, in addition to their already established roles within their lives. Caregivers become the go-to person for assisting with all aspects of daily care, household responsibilities and are the ones consistently providing encouragement. It is critical that the caregivers take the time to care for themselves, in order to care for their loved one. This is something that often gets overlooked as the “mountain of work and responsibilities” grow daily for the caregiver.

A caregiver functioning at his or her best is vital to the recovery process as well. Just as it is expected for the individual with a spinal cord injury to experience grief, anger and frustration, it is also completely normal for caregivers to experience these exact same emotions. Their world has also been flipped upside down and they are having to learn to adjust to a new normal. It’s critical that caregivers take time to prioritize their own mental and physical health, so that they can support their loved one in the best way that they can. Remember to give yourself grace throughout the recovery process, both as an individual with a spinal cord injury and as a caregiver.


The journey of spinal cord injury rehabilitation is a multilayered approach that should encompass both the physical as well as the mental well-being of the patient. By partnering mental health services with other rehabilitation therapies, patients are able reclaim their autonomy and find joy in life again. A holistic care approach honors the inherent dignity and worth of every individual on this journey.


About the authors:

Kelsey has a strong passion to serve the neurologic population and realized that the key to successfully treating those with complex neurologic conditions required a holistic approach, individualized treatments plans, and providing treatment in the survivor’s own environment to promote the best chance for recovery. It was through this philosophy and passion that she opened her own company, NeuroAxis Rehabilitation Services; a mobile, outpatient company that provides those diagnosed with complex neurologic conditions (stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s Disease, etc.) specialized, intensive therapy to aid in the transition from hospital to community integration.

Sarah is a passionate and dedicated Clinical Mental Health Therapist with a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Pennsylvania Western University. In therapy, Sarah is committed to providing compassionate and effective therapy to individuals seeking support and healing.


LinkedIn (Kelsey)

LinkedIn (Sarah)

NeuroAxis Rehab on Facebook

NeuroAxis Rehab on Instagram