When Should Couples Seek Relationship Help After a Brain Injury?

Dr. Jeffrey Kreutzer and Dr. Taryn Stejskal
When should couples seek help? We think early on is better than later on. And some of the reasons for that is that people are often confused about the changes that they see. They think they know a person really well, and then their personality changes drastically. After a brain injury, family members often have lots of questions. Questions leave people with anxieties. And also early intervention is important because we find that sometimes people stop talking to each other and the relationship goes downhill. So we like to think that there's a preventative element of seeing a counselor early on. Yeah. We were just saying too that a lot of times when people leave the hospital there are so many other appointments-- rehab appointments and speech therapy appointments and appointments with different doctors-- that people can feel like their schedule is really full. And so if it's not possible right after you or someone in your family has been discharged, we'd say within about three to six months try to get in to a counselor and just talk about some of the issues that are happening in your relationship. It's a good way to have a safer space to talk about what's changed in the relationship and get some feedback about that. The issues that people come to see us about can be very different if they're coming in three months after the injury or 18 months to 2 years after the injuries. So initially, people are very hopeful that things will get better, that the person will be back or very close to the person that they used to be, and that's within three months to one year. After a year, couples start to say, "Maybe this is the way that things are going to be "for a long period of time." And so at that point, people are coming in to talk to us about, "Okay, we're still getting better, but now we want some strategies "to help us live with how things are going to be different for a long period of time." And that could be cognitive strategies for memory, that could be how they could have an intimate or sexual relationship that's different now, it could run the whole gamut. In addition, to be completely honest, within the first year when people are very hopeful that symptoms are going to go away and people don't seem to mind as much when there are concerns related to the injury like aggression or people being forgetful or forgetting where they put their keys, at about between the two and five year mark, people can become much more frustrated with the person who's had the injury. "Why can't he or she do this or that?" And so the chronicity of the concerns can create a lot of frustration and a lot of negative emotions, and so we try to work with people on that to kind of solve their solvable problems and help them live with the problems that they can't solve.

Dr. Kreutzer and Dr. Stejskal talk about their work with people with traumatic brain injury and their families.

Download the transcript of this video.

Jeffrey Kreutzer

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.

Posted on BrainLine May 22, 2009.
Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Brian King.

Comments (1)

A helpful video