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The return of the BIRT conference

By Dr Sara da Silva Ramos, Senior Research Fellow at Brainkind

The return of the BIRT conference

The week commencing September 18th 2023 was a memorable one for Brainkind.

Not only did we unveil our new name and image, but we also celebrated this at the first in-person event held following a longer-than-intended pause in our biennial conference tradition.

This time we chose the city of York and had our venue in the Malmaison Hotel. This is not only because York is such a lovely city, and the Malmaison such a welcoming and conveniently located venue, but also because we wanted to celebrate the imminent opening of our Brainkind Neurological Centre York.

In keeping with tradition, the conference included a combination of keynote talks, offering an overview of the state-of-the-art in specific areas, and seminars and workshops, sharing emerging trends and findings from a range of practitioners and researchers from within and outside Brainkind.

Dr Zoe Fisher kicked off the day with a truly inspirational keynote lecture describing the GENIAL roadmap to wellbeing [1], and how it has been implemented and evaluated by means of a randomised controlled trial across multiple sites across South Wales, including Swansea Bay, Cardiff and the Vale and Hywel Dda​. Zoe’s talk left us with the idea that through learning how to deal – even make the most of – negative emotions, and connecting with the natural environment through surf, or eco-friendly building, rehabilitation could be fun, and focused on hope rather than ill health.

Professor David Sharp, from Imperial College, used a series of case examples to take us through the most recent advances in the understanding of the effects, interventions and outcomes following traumatic brain injury (TBI), as well as giving us a glimpse on developments in diagnostics which may come to revolutionise current practices. He also highlighted the importance of co-ordinated multidisciplinary working to ensure the best possible outcomes for people after TBI.

In the intervening time between the two keynote lectures, a series of six parallel sessions covered a range of topics, including music therapy, the basics of psychopharmacology in brain injury rehabilitation, working with others within inpatient rehabilitation, using compassion therapy approaches, “bite-sized” training for rehabilitation staff, as well as innovative ways of supporting those with brain injury through team working in other settings such as criminal justice and services for survivors of domestic abuse.

The choice of which session to attend might have been tough, but we were trying to be kind in delivering a programme full of interesting ideas and approaches.

A wise person has got me into the habit of thinking of three things to reflect on the day, meetings and experiences. Reminiscent of the Three Good Things exercise [1], we have been calling this version, coined by our Clinical Director – Rudi Coetzer, “three things method”.

My three things from the conference were “stressful” – always hard to avoid when you are hosting and trying to provide your guests with the best possible experience; “buzzing” – because there was an energetic atmosphere in the air; and “positive” – because overall, I know I’m not alone in saying, it was a great conference.

I can only thank once again to everyone who made it possible: our speakers, the Brainkind team, all our sponsors and delegates, and ultimately the people out there living with brain injury, who are the driving force behind our wish to come together to learn and share how we can best help them to thrive.


[1] Kemp, A. H., Arias, J. A., & Fisher, Z. (2017). Social ties, health and wellbeing: a literature review and model. Neuroscience and social science: The missing link, 397-427

[2] Seligman, M, Steen T, Park N and Peterson, C.  Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. Am psychol 2005 July – August;60 (5):410 – 421

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