How can finding positive things to focus on help with recovery after brain injury?
One of the things that comes with being human is a tendency to worry or focus on the negative. And one of the things that we do here is use a form of therapy called cognitive behavior therapy and we help people to understand that, while it may be easy or may come naturally to focus on the negative, it has the potential to make things worse after a brain injury.
What we try to help people do is instead to recognize the positive things in the other person. And it’s really hard to do because many people are overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness, but we try to help people recognize their feelings and then really, really focus on the positive.
And we ask people questions. Questions can sometimes be very powerful tools. For example, we might ask a wife, "What kinds of things do you see in your husband now that are familiar and recognizable? What traits does your husband have now? What qualities does he have now that he had before?" And I will tell a lot of spouses that I meet that there are often changes in people after brain injury that are positive; so for example, the husband who was never at the kid’s ball games, never at the soccer games, never home for dinner after work might have a lot more free time and have a lot more time to spend with the children.
The person who was really intense before and difficult to get along with might be very patient and understanding now. So I can say with all honesty, and I do say to spouses, that many people change for the better. And the other thing that we tell spouses is that while the injury that happened was very sudden and unexpected, ultimately over time, if people are patient, things will become more predictable and more understandable and people will adapt.
Jeffrey Kreutzer, PhD a Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry at VCU. He serves as Director of Virginia's TBI Model System, a position he has held since 1987. He also coordinates VCU Health System outpatient services for families and persons with brain injury.