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'From Trauma to Triumph' working with Paralympic Athletes

Studies by Dr Melissa Day, Dr Marcus Smith and Phil Birch were presented to delegates at the British Psychological Society (BPS) conference, which was an opportunity for them to showcase their work in front of their peers.

Dr Day’s research found that competing in sport is a positive way to re-evaluate the lives of those who have suffered a major trauma. In a study funded by the Richard Benjamin Trust, she interviewed potential Paralympic athletes who have an acquired disability about the role that sport has played in their physical and psychological rehabilitation.

Titled ‘From Trauma to Triumph’, all of the people she spoke with will be competing at or aiming for a place at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, providing strong examples of how sport can help to give new meaning to people who have suffered trauma.

“Some of the participants I spoke to were previously involved in sport, suffered their trauma and have gone on to become Paralympians. They found that sport helped to evaluate their life, make meaning of the situation and have a positive attitude. There are negative consequences of trauma, and it is easy to be negative, but sport is a spur to push them on and find new life meanings.”

Dr Smith’s academic discipline is exercise physiology, with an interest in neuroscience related to dehydration and brain morphology. He presented research carried out in collaboration with the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences at Kings College London, looking at the effects of acute dehydration on brain function using the latest advancements in technology, including MRI, to examine and measure more precisely the impact of dehydration.

“Our data demonstrates that brain structure and function amongst healthy adolescents and adults does change with dehydration, with the brain having to work harder to perform the same tasks”

The validity of the Mental Toughness questionnaire used by sport and exercise psychologists to assess mental toughness has been called into question by the research of Phil Birch in his PhD thesis, which was presented at the conference. Despite its abundant use within a range of athletic populations, Phil’s research suggests the test is questionable in regards to its ability to measure mental toughness at this stage and suggests that the test warrants further development.