How Families Cope after Brain Injury by Marilyn Lash, M.S.W.

Coping in Families — struggles and tears

How Families Cope after Brain Injury

Marilyn Lash, M.S.W.

Coping styles vary within families after brain injury

Every family has an emotional reaction when a spouse, sibling, child, or other relative has a traumatic brain injury. Each family has learned ways of coping from previous experiences with stresses, losses and changes in their lives. Some methods of coping have been productive for families in the past and helped ease not only their levels of stress and anxiety, but helped them problem solve and prepare for the future. Other ways of coping may not have been as productive for families. Some may have learned from this and changed how they cope with stress or change, while others may be stuck repeating negative patterns.

Emotional trauma of brain injury

We all know that nothing prepares families for the emotional trauma of brain injury. But we do know most people, including families, often react and cope in ways that are familiar when facing a crisis. If a strategy has helped in the past, the hope is that it will help in this new crisis. If it has not worked in the past, hopefully a different strategy will be considered. This sounds simplistic but it makes sense and it is based on patterns of human behavior.

So if you are a family member of someone with a brain injury, you might consider thinking about how you have coped with the many changes and losses in your life. Surveys of families with a member who had a traumatic brain injury grouped their responses into five categories of cognitive, psychological, spiritual, support systems, and physical coping (DePompei, 2011).

Cognitive coping

This person looks for and uses information. Searching the internet is a common example. There are lots of ways that “cognitive copers” gather information including reading books and articles, talking with other families, attending conferences and workshops and contacting experts.

Psychological coping  

This person’s coping style uses internal positive thoughts. Examples are individuals who count their blessings, take it one day at a time, and focus on improvements and hope. Some take up a cause for prevention or public awareness or finding a cure – it may be brain injury in this case. For others, it may be breast cancer, diabetes, or some other illness.

Spiritual coping

Belief in a higher power brings great comfort to many. Those who use spiritual coping strategies may talk with clergy, read religious books, inspirational stories, or meditate.

Support systems for coping

These people cope by reaching out to others. It may be as simple and informal as talking with friends to joining formal support groups on brain injury to participating in community groups or activities.

Physical coping

Many people find that exercise reduces their stress and tension – it may be walking, jogging or aerobics. Others clean house, eat, cook or listen to music.

Find what works for you

Everyone is different so it’s important to know what works for you. Most of us use several coping styles depending on the circumstances and the types of stress we are facing. By better understanding how you cope, you can take the steps to a more positive future.


DePompei, R (2011). Coping Styles of Individuals and Families after Traumatic Brain Injury. Brain Injury/Professional,  8(4), 26-27.

Recommended Reading 

Brain Injury It is a Journey by Flora Hammond, M.D. and Tami Guerrier, B.S., Editors 

Life Changes: When a spouse or partner has a brain injuryby Janelle Breese Biagioni and Marilyn Lash, M.S.W.

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