Integrity and sensitivity

Dr Ivan M. Pitman, Clinical Lead / Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust, on their involvement in a new Louis Theroux documentary.

When I was first asked by our Communications Team if I would be willing to collaborate with BBC Two on a programme about brain injury I was unsure. On one hand, the true impact of brain injury, which is often referred to as a ‘hidden disability’, is only ever truly experienced by those involved, so the idea of a documentary to help promote awareness and understanding of the real-life struggles of those affected seemed an opportunity too good to miss.

On the other hand, the presenter was to be Louis Theroux. I had always enjoyed his weird and wonderful documentaries, but his choice of subject matter had ranged from ‘The Most Hated Family in America’ to sex workers in a brothel in Nevada. I was not sure if I felt happy allowing him access to the vulnerable adults with whom I work on a daily basis.

The Series Producer quickly reassured me. He explained about Louis’ more recent work around dementia, transgender children and subjects that involve complex human dilemmas. He also said that although final editorial control would rest with the BBC, The Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust (BIRT) would be able to veto anything if we had a valid concern regarding the integrity of the Trust or privacy of an individual.

With the support of BIRT’s Communications Manager, we invited the producer and an assistant to come to our Halloween party at Redford Court in Liverpool. This was a good opportunity for them to meet the people we support and their families in an informal setting, and for us to assess their reaction to the idea of being part of a documentary. I was delighted with the interest they expressed. It was clear that they saw a value in telling their stories so that others might understand the challenge of changes after brain injury.

Over several weeks the production team visited Redford Court and followed the everyday life of the centre; sitting in on reviews, attending assessments of new referrals and going out on rehabilitation activities. Once it was decided that BIRT would be involved, a great deal of effort was taken to assess capacity and gain consent of those to be filmed.

Having Louis at the centre created a great deal of excitement and I was impressed at the ease with which he spoke to service users and was happy with the ever requested ‘selfie’.

Initially the crew filmed various activities with a range of people, but over time they began to narrow their focus to a few individuals to allow their stories to be told and to present the complexity of their lives following brain injury and the impact this had on their families. As a result, it was important to manage the expectations of those who had been interviewed but would not be part of the final documentary.

Louis and the crew were always accompanied by a member of our clinical team and we were all impressed by the integrity and sensitivity they showed and how they managed a number of emotionally charged situations.

Six months and over 70 hours of filming later, I was delighted at the result, a thought provoking and honest documentary which will raise awareness of the issues surrounding brain injury and the role psychology has to play in the rehabilitation process.

 - Dr Ivan M. Pitman is Clinical Lead / Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust. The programme is to be broadcast on Sunday 15th May at 9pm, BBC 2. Read more at http://www.bps.org.uk/news/bps-members-feature-louis-theroux-brain-injur...

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