How can educating families about common impacts of brain injuries help them heal?
One of the first things that we do is to show families and survivors a list of common results of brain injury. Most people are familiar with the cognitive changes, like trouble with memory or adding numbers.
But the list that we provide people has things on it like communication challenges, social challenges, new fears about being around other people. That’s a common impact of brain injury. We talk about emotional changes; people are more likely to be depressed in the first year of recovery. People often feel what we would call emotional ability; they’re happy, then they’re sad, and emotions are all over the place.
All these things are very directly related to injury. Most people are not aware of the scope of the changes that occur after brain injury, even when they’ve had a brain injury or when their spouse has had a brain injury; they tend to associate some of those changes with their difficulty with managing the situation. There’s a component of that that’s true; if we’re stressed, we’re not going to be as smooth emotionally as we are when we’re not stressed. But a lot of this really does come straight from the injury.
So in counseling when I present people with this list and talk about how those specific instances or changes are impacting their family or their relationship, people are often very emotional. They say things like, "Did you come in my house? How did you know exactly what our life is like?" And to have the experience of knowing that while the changes they’re going through are very difficult, they’re not unusual or unexpected can be very, very comforting for people.
Emilie Godwin, PhD, LPC, MFT is a faculty member and licensed clinician at Virginia Commonwealth University, with a specialty focus on couples and family counseling after brain injury. Currently, she serves as the Family Support Program Coordinator for the VCU TBI Model System projects.