Problem Solving for Families After Brain Injury

Jeffrey Kreutzer and Lee Livingston, The National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care
Problem Solving for Families After Brain Injury

In day-to-day life, most of us come across new problems, difficulties, and challenges. Some of us are lucky to successfully solve a few of life’s problems each day. After brain injury, problems often seem to pile up so quickly and so high that survivors and their families have trouble finding good solutions. Some people feel so overwhelmed they give up trying to solve their problems.

There are several reasons why solving problems after brain injury may be difficult. Oftentimes, problems in life after brain injury are new. The survivor and his or her family have never faced so many complicated problems before. Survivors and families often get conflicting advice from other family members, friends, and professionals making it even more difficult to decide what steps to take. Survivors and families often find that resources are limited after brain injury. Money is a problem for those who stop working. Support from friends and outside family members may be hard to find.

The term “problem solving” is often used to describe how we deal with everyday difficulties. Yet, we do not often think about what the term means. What is problem solving? Problem solving means applying a set of rules to everyday problems to solve them more quickly and successfully. There are five basic steps to problem solving:

  1. Defining the problem – identifying the problem in a clear and definite manner
  2. Brainstorming  – generating lists of ideas for solving the problem
  3. Pros and Cons – thinking about and understanding the “pros” and “cons” for each possible solution
  4. Try out solution – picking the solution with the most “pros” and fewest “cons” and trying it out
  5. Evaluate outcome – determining if the solution worked to the solve problem; if not, try another solution

There are a number of common mistakes people make in trying to solve problems after brain injury. Oftentimes, people try to solve all of their problems at once. They may not consider which problems have the highest priority to solve. Survivors or family members may also try the first solution that presents itself without thinking about other, possibly better solutions. Here are examples of other common mistakes people make when trying to solve problems:

  • Not asking other people for help or turning down help from people who care about you and your family
  • Asking other people to solve problems for you but not helping yourself
  • Not following through until a solution is found
  • Having a vague idea or definition of the problem
  • Thinking about what is wrong instead of how to make things better
  • Thinking that the problem has to be solved immediately or very quickly
  • Not giving enough time to see if the solution works
  • Not “brainstorming” and throwing out possible solutions without really thinking them through

What kind of problem-solver are you? To help you understand how you solve problems, take a few moments to complete the following Problem Solving Personality Questionnaire. On the list below, mark T for True if the statement describes you and F for False if not.

Problem Solving Questionnaire

  1. I tackle my problems head on.
  2. I give up easily.
  3. I am patient and allow time for solutions to work.
  4. I have so many problems to work on I usually don’t make progress.
  5. I carefully research my problems and possible solutions.
  6. I am usually not patient.
  7. I usually have clear goals.
  8. I try to solve my problems as quickly as I can.
  9. I try to foresee and prevent problems.
  10. I usually let other people solve my problems for me.
  11. I am a creative problem-solver and a positive thinker.
  12. Problems have to get really bad before I deal with them.
  13. I try new approaches when old ones don’t work.
  14. Most of the time I don’t have a back-up plan.
  15. I seek out and rely on good advice.
  16. I’m not sure what my goals are.
  17. I’m good at setting priorities and working on only one problem at a time.
  18. I tend to focus on what’s wrong and why solutions won’t work.
  19. I keep trying until I find a solution to my problems.
  20. I usually don’t ask for help.

Look over your answers and then review the following Tips for Successfully Solving Problems. Consider the following question: Are you effective at dealing with life’s challenges or do you avoid positive strategies for solving problems?

Tips for Successfully Solving Problems

  • Know the problem well (clearly define it).
  • Look at all possible solutions.
  • Ask people you trust for ideas and help.
  • Try out the best solution first.
  • Remember that trying is better than not trying.
  • Remember that it may take several tries to solve tough problems; keep trying.
  • Remember that problem solving gets easier with practice.
  • Realize that patience and persistence are keys to solving most problems.
  • Be kind to yourself and realize that having problems comes with being human.
  • Be flexible and willing to try new approaches when old ones don’t work out.
  • Have a back-up plan in case attempted solutions don’t work out.
  • Break down solution into series of steps and complete one step at a time.

Are there other tips that we should add to the list?

You can avoid mistakes and feeling frustrated by using the problem-solving tips we have offered. Remember that being upset with yourself won’t help you or your family deal more effectively with life’s problems. Always give yourself credit for doing your best!

This column was written by staff of the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury (NRC). The mission of the NRC is to provide relevant, practical information for professionals, persons with brain injury, and family members. To learn more about our educational and clinical programs and problem solving tools check our website ( or call Mary Beth King at 804.828.9055 or toll free at 1.866.296.6904.


Posted on BrainLine June 19, 2009.

From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Reprinted with permission.