New online training will help frontline workers support survivors of brain injury

UBC researchers team up to launch free e-learning course

A new training course from UBC researchers aims to provide critical education for frontline workers to recognize signs and symptoms of brain injury in survivors of intimate partner violence.

According to the World Health Organization, one in three women will experience intimate partner violence. Most will also suffer a brain injury.

“For many years, concussion research has focused almost exclusively on brain injury experienced in the context of sports, motor vehicle crashes, the workplace and the military,” says Paul van Donkelaar, professor of health and exercise sciences at UBC Okanagan and principal researcher on the project. “But brain injury is a prominent, and largely invisible, injury among survivors of intimate partner violence for which frontline staff at women’s shelters have typically received minimal, if any training.”

To tackle this issue, and further explore the intersection of brain injury in intimate partner violence, van Donkelaar, together with Karen Mason, former executive director of the Kelowna Women’s Shelter, formed the Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research (SOAR) initiative, based at UBC Okanagan.

Through a collaboration with Shelina Babul, clinical associate professor in the department of pediatrics at UBC, SOAR has launched a novel version of the Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT)-an online training system developed to standardize concussion recognition, diagnosis, treatment and management.

The training program can’t come soon enough, says Babul.

“If left unrecognized and unmanaged, concussions and traumatic brain injuries can have long-term consequences,” she adds. “This new toolkit adds to our existing suite of e-learning courses and gives support workers evidence-based tools to better support survivors.”

CATT for Women’s Support Workers is a 45-minute video-based, interactive course which features a series of online educational modules and resources, including the voice of a real survivor of violence, dubbed ‘Jane’ to protect her privacy. The free, online course is now available nationwide, in English and French.

“Our initial research shows most women who experience intimate partner violence suffer at least one, if not multiple, concussions related to abuse,” says van Donkelaar. “The long-term implications can be devastating, and we hope this course is one more piece in the puzzle of getting them the help they need.”

Allison Mclauchlan, executive director of Kelowna Women’s Shelter, the primary community partner on SOAR, agrees.

“Women who experience intimate partner violence are often stigmatised and misdiagnosed which leaves them open to further trauma and abuse,” she says. “This new module of the Concussion Awareness Training Tool will provide shelter staff the knowledge, and opportunity, to have difficult conversations, and give the women we serve information and support on the connection between abuse and brain injury.”

She adds COVID-19, and that fact many women were forced to self-isolate with their abuser, has only heightened the need for the training.

“We’re honoured to be part of this important work which is shining a light on the lifelong effects of intimate partner violence and abuse,” says Mclauchlan.

The project is funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada and the Max Bell Foundation.

View the new training course at:

About CATT

The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is a series of online educational modules and resources with­ the goal of standardizing concussion recognition, diagnosis, treatment, and management.

Learn more at or on Twitter @cattonline.

About SOAR

Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research (SOAR) is a community-based research initiative based at UBC Okanagan. SOAR uses psychosocial and lab-based assessments to explore brain injury in women survivors of intimate partner violence, and apply data gathered to educate and train those who work with them. We seek to increase awareness of this critical public health issue, and empower survivors to get the trauma-informed help they need to move forward into healthy lives free of abuse.

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