I admit it. I was resistant to talk therapy. How could spilling my guts to a therapist for thirty minutes help me when I felt that a year of straight venting might not even scratch the surface? I have since learned that talk therapy is not about venting. It’s about facing the problems that confront us and finding practical solutions to those problems. It’s about understanding ourselves in ways we didn’t know we could. It’s about unmasking, seeing possibilities, and finding our own truth. My sister once told me, “There’s the truth we tell others, the truth we tell ourselves, and the truth we won’t even tell ourselves.” We are all multi-layered, and the years and our experiences grow and harden those layers.
When Hugh and I began rebuilding our relationship after he suffered a TBI, job loss, and feelings of lost identity, we turned to Dr. Kreutzer at Virginia Commonwealth University for help. At this point, Hugh and I were trying to figure out who we were, post-injury, as a couple. Both of us had changed in the year following the accident. Hugh had some personality changes from his injury, and I grew tense, vigilant, and over-protective. Our future looked like an open book with two authors hopelessly stuck with writer’s block!
Communication was a sticking point for us. I had been Hugh’s caregiver for so long that my identity as a wife faded somewhere into the distance. I needed to trust Hugh to get on with his life independently, to not feel so alarmed whenever he tried something new. I wanted to lean on him again, but I was afraid.
I’m a person who suggests and insinuates, where Hugh is a more direct person. This kept us from understanding each other at times and it caused arguments. For instance, I’d walk by a sink of dirty dishes that Hugh promised to do earlier, and I’d say, “The sink is full of dishes,” with an edge in my voice. Hugh would ignore me. Gone were the days when we understood each other with a simple glance. Dr. Kreutzer pointed out that I did not remind Hugh to do the dishes, or ask him directly, rather I simply showed dissatisfaction. Once I began asking Hugh in a direct way to do things, he was more cooperative. I came to realize that I didn’t know what Hugh was thinking at all, and I made some wrong assumptions based on our past.
Dr. Kreutzer was able to objectively observe us interacting, and that gave him insight into how we were affecting each other. He saw how we pushed each other’s buttons, and once he brought it to our attention, we could do something about it. Instead of engaging in an argument or giving each other the silent treatment when one of us was frustrated with the other one, we found ways to open up and discuss what was really bothering us so we could work on the root problem together.
I am now a huge fan of talk therapy. It is drug-free, it can provide insights that improve your life for the long-term, and it has no negative side effects. I’ve learned how to identify and manage my own emotions better, how to cope with change, and how to manage my stress and sleep problems, all through speaking to therapists. Has talk therapy ever helped you? Is it something you would try?
Watch Relationships After TBI
What keeps some families together after a brain injury while others split apart? Through the TBI Model Systems, Dr. Jeffrey Kreutzer and Dr. Emilie Godwin have been studying ways to help families survive — and grow stronger — after a brain injury. In this video, we hear from Dr. Kreutzer and Dr. Godwin as well as Rosemary Rawlins and her husband, Hugh, who sustained a severe TBI from a bike crash.