How do family roles and responsibilities change after a brain injury?
After a brain injury, the survivor needs to really be focused entirely on getting well, on learning and practicing new skills, and on trying to regain old skills. For that reason, and because of a number of the deficits that brain injury survivors might struggle with after a brain injury, often survivors are not able to take on many of the responsibilities in the family that they had before.
And so families pretty immediately have to reassign the roles that the survivor’s giving up. This is of course a challenge for their spouse or their partner because the partner already has their own roles and responsibilities that they’re managing. But they also now taking on the responsibility of managing the survivor’s wellness and recovery. And so on top of that the spouse or partner might have a significant amount of duties that the survivor’s had to give up. At the same time, survivors are often very distraught about the idea of giving up the things that they were good at.
The roles change pretty substantially as well. Often in families or couples, there’s someone who makes the majority of decisions in certain areas. A survivor might not be capable or ready to make decisions in those areas any more. Someone’s going to have to step in and make those decisions. For example, somebody who made all the financial decisions before might not be able to do that anymore. And so the role is going to shift so that someone else fills that void. And everyone in the family, children included, are going to have to adjust to these changes in roles.
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.