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For TBI Awareness Month: The Six Worst Things to Say to Someone with Traumatic Brain Injury

21 Sep

September is TBI or Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. Everyone here at Health Journeys salutes those coping in one way or other with this condition.

TBI's can take many forms, from brief, mild concussion, to an injury that requires a slow, arduous recovery. Sometimes it means catastrophic impairment with no end in sight.

It takes bucket loads of fortitude, resourcefulness and energy, in the patient, family and loved ones, to manage and cope with a mid-levelTBI.

Instead of my usual tips for the patient and family, I thought I'd offer a list of what not to say to a TBI patient. This is because, in our desire to be helpful, we can so easily say the exactly wrong thing. It happens all the time. Probably this has to do with the discomfort we have with our own helplessness, when confronted with such frustration and hardship.

So here, good people, is what NOT to say – and, of course, a lot of this applies to other challenging situations and illnesses as well.

  • Gee, you seem fine to me. A lot of TBI symptoms are invisible and that can be crazy-making in and of itself - far harder than having visible signs of injury that automatically explain misfires in functioning.

  • How many times do I have to repeat myself? Memory problems are part of the condition. Instead of getting exasperated, think of creative solutions to help with remembering.

  • I can do that for you. Don't take away independence, control, confidence and self-esteem unnecessarily – instead, encourage realistic autonomy, even if it takes more time.

  • You're so lucky to be alive. Oh, really? This is neither helpful nor encouraging. Some may in fact be feeling UNlucky to still be alive. Nip the impulse to say this.

  • You have to be positive! Easier said than done. Depression and discouragement is part of the challenge. Do everyone a favor and just don't say this.

  • You're not trying hard enough. Apathy is part of the condition, and it's not the same as laziness. Instead of this general advice, put forward some discrete and do-able goals, acknowledging that motivation can be hard to come by.

What should you say and do?

  • A simple acknowledgement of how strong, resourceful, persistent, brave and/or inspiring the patient, family or care partner is will go a long way to lift spirits and lend genuine emotional support.

  • And listen. Good, attentive listening is huge, even when you can't fix the problem.... No, make that especially when you can't fix the problem.

  • 2160bConsider the gift of guided imagery that specifically targets TBI. It's been shown to help with mood, motivation, anxiety, concentration and rehabilitation of motor function.

Take care and be well.

All best,

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.