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Helping relationships stay strong after brain injury

By Dr Gerard Riley, Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor, University of Birmingham

Continuity Therapy

After a brain injury, it is easy to lose connection with one’s past life, as individuals and as a couple. Previous research suggests this can have a bad effect on the relationship and on the psychological wellbeing of the couple.

In this month’s Research Digest, Dr Gerard Riley, Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor at the University of Birmingham, tells us about his study looking at ways of helping relationships stay strong after brain injury. Dr Riley said:

We are looking to recruit couples to take part in a research project funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), that is developing a new psychological therapy for couples living with brain injury.  Brain injury often puts a strain on relationships and the therapy aims to help couples maintain a good relationship. The therapy is about reconnecting with the past.

Previous research suggests that a factor contributing to the deterioration of couples’ relationships after brain injury is a sense of discontinuity with the past.  The person with the injury may feel very different compared to who they were before. People might express: “I’ve lost the old-me” or “She’s not the woman I married”. They may also feel that their relationship is radically changed (“I feel like his carer, not his husband.”) [1].  

Dr Riley and his team have been developing and piloting a psychological therapy focused on increasing couples’ sense of continuity between past and present [2]. They have found promising improvements and now aim to expand and develop the initial version of the therapy to produce detailed guidelines for its use. This new study will give couples living with brain injury the opportunity to contribute to its development. 

The therapy involves a review of the couple’s life as individuals and as a couple, reflecting on who they were before the injury, what was important to them; and on what the injury has changed and what has stayed the same. Couples are also asked to work on changing their day-to-day life and ways of being together as a couple – to bring them closer to what these were like before the injury. 

Participants would receive 10 sessions of the therapy with a clinical psychologist. To find out more about the study or how to volunteer, follow the links below.

We are already looking forward to the results!  

Further details are available at: 

If you have any questions or would like to know more, please contact Gerry Riley at: 


[1] Villa, D., & Riley, G. A. (2017). Partners’ experiences of relationship continuity in acquired brain injury. Cogent Psychology, 4(1), 1380891. 

[2] Yasmin, N., & Riley, G. A. (2020). Psychological intervention for partners post-stroke: A case report. NeuroRehabilitation, 47(2), 237-245. 

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