The gap between our perception of what brain injury recovery should be like vs the actual process of recovery can be confusing for a person that is just trying to get back to normal life. The common perception of brain injury recovery is that you may experience light symptoms such as headaches and need to avoid light temporarily. Actual recovery from brain injuries are different for everyone and treatment varies wildly from person to person. Some people are simply able to bounce back while others find themselves in a several year recovery period with worries on how they will ever get back to normal. For more serious cases I often find pairing psychotherapy to be beneficial to long term recovery efforts. Below are three common reasons why:
Increased Emotional Reactivity
One of the most common issues I see patient’s struggling with in the early course of brain injury recovery is the increased emotional reactivity they find themselves dealing with. Patients are often bewildered, confused, and ashamed that they are struggling to maintain the emotional stability they are used to. Many patients don’t even understand that increased emotional reactivity is common to brain injury recovery due to the stressor of the incident causing increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. Dealing with symptoms of anxiety and depression commonly contribute to emotional instability and an increased presentation of irritable or emotionally reactive states. Individual psychotherapy helps to point out, contain, and help mend the reactive mind through having a place to explore negative feeling states. I also included mindfulness meditation breathwork to increase the patient’s time in calmer states with evidence pointing towards positive structural changes in the brain.
The difference between how an injury is perceived by ourselves and others in our recovery is the degree of visibility it has. Many of us stop and will try to be helpful to someone who is struggling with a clear signal like a cast. We will open the door, ask if they need help, and might even sign the cast as a symbol of well wishes. However a common issue with brain injury recovery is the lack of visibility from the patient and their environment. Patients dealing with brain injury recovery are typically able to present as mostly okay and people in their environments will typically expect them to be completely back to normal shortly after their injury. The lack of understanding of brain injury recovery combined with someone looking normal can create a conflict of expectations that results in increased stress. Patients benefit from psychotherapy due to them being visible in their struggle to the therapist along with being able to learn how to communicate more smoothly to their relational environment about their recovery.
Long Term Recovery
One of the most difficult things that patients who are suffering from brain injury recovery report in treatment is getting used to the long term recovery that is necessary. Fears often emerge within treatment of whether they will ever get back to their full self, career fear, or the fear of something happening again. Long term recovery efforts include set backs along the way. Once a person finally feels some daylight in their recovery they can feel completely back to normal setting themselves up for a crash in symptom reactivation. This can be extremely frustrating for patients that have been suffering for a long period of time in their recovery. Psychotherapy is beneficial due to the ups and downs of recovery being normalized by a therapist who is experienced in supporting those who have long term recovery needs.
Brain injury recovery is a difficult and long road for many. If you feel like any of this resonates with you or a loved one then I encourage you to reach out for a consultation today.
-Jacob Meyer, LSW, LAC