Talking with Families after Brain Injury

Talking with Families after Brain Injury

John W. Richards, M.S.W., MBA, Marilyn Lash, M.S.W. and Carolyn Rocchio
Talking with families about the emotional and physical trauma of brain injury can be stressful for health care providers and caregivers. This tip card gives strategies for responding to questions, comments, or dissatisfaction of families while recognizing the special concerns and stresses of families when a member has a head injury.
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Full Description

This tip card helps professionals support, communicate and educate families effectively during all stages of care for acquired and traumatic brain injury. By understanding the family’s reactions, professionals learn how to address intense emotional reactions of anger, guilt and other negative emotions. Filled with detailed and practical tips on helping and supporting families.

Pages 8
Year 2008


John W. Richards, MSW, MBA

Mr. Richards, of Deerfield, NH, knows brain injury from both sides as a professional and with personal experience. He was recently named Brain Injury Community Services Coordinator for Crotched Mountain Foundation. In his new role, he will research, develop and coordinate community-based brain injury services off the rehabilitation center's campus.

Throughout his twenty-five year career as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, Mr. Richards has served a number of organizations throughout New England including the Center for Life Management in Salem, NH; Lakeview Community Services in Effingham Falls, NH; and Atlantic Behavioral Medicine in Dover, NH; Mentor Clinical Care, Inc. in Boston; and the Family Continuity Program in Plymouth, MA.

Prior to his injury, he was with Residential Resources, Inc in Keene, NH as president, vice-president of operations, director of marketing and development, and director of special projects.

John Richards is well known in the brain injury community as former president of the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire and as a previous board member of the Brain Injury Association of America.

Marilyn Lash, M.S.W.

Marilyn uses her social work experience and research in pediatric rehabilitation to develop sensitive and practical guides for families, educators, and professionals. Marilyn's specialty is helping families cope with the emotional impact of brain injury and developing strategies for negotiating the complex service system. Now President and Senior Editor of Lash and Associates Publishing/Training, she focuses on developing user friendly publications for families, educators, and clinicians.

Carolyn Rocchio

As a spokesperson for families of survivors of brain injury and founder and past President of the Brain Injury Association of Florida, Carolyn Rocchio is internationally recognized for her compassion and expertise.

As a columnist for TBI Challenge! and for Brain Injury Source, popular publications of the Brain Injury Association of America, Ms. Rocchio has written many articles for families and professionals on the consequences of brain injury and finding meaning in life after brain injury.

Carolyn’s list of achievements, honors and publications is lengthy. She is the voice of a mother who knows first hand about the compassion, endurance, hope and determination needed to move forward after brain injury.


Supporting Families

  • Communicating with Families
  • Tips for professionals on communicating
  • Tips for professionals on educating families

Anger, Guilt and Negative Emotions

  • Tips for professionals about emotions of families

A Brain Injury is a Family Injury

  • Tips for helping and supporting the family

Facing an Uncertain Future

  • Tips for professionals on helping families regain control over their lives



Sample excerpt. Preview only – please do not copy.

Communicating with Families

Communication between professionals and families is critical for establishing a good relationship. Families are very sensitive to the words that professionals use to describe the person’s condition, especially during treatment in the hospital and/or rehabilitation program.

Direct, clear and simple explanations help families understand what is happening and help prepare them for the future. Choice of words used by professionals in the early stages of recovery can directly influence a family’s positive hopes or negative expectations for recovery.

Tips for professionals on communicating…

  • Be cautious when discussing long term recovery; do not be unrealistic, nor overly optimistic or pessimistic.
  • Describe your role in the person’s recovery by explaining your discipline, i.e., the physical therapist may explain why range of motion exercises are important, the speech/language pathologist may explain why swallowing is being evaluated, the occupational therapist may explain why a hand splint is worn at night.
  • Arrange for the family to speak to a more experienced professional when unable to answer questions; it’s okay to admit that you don’t know or are unfamiliar with the issue.
  • Establish trust by explaining what is and is not a meaningful response. For example, when families have been told the person may not “wake up, walk or talk again,” this can take away their hope by eliminating the possibility that progress may change over time.

Tips for professionals on educating families…

It is important to have ongoing education for families as the situation changes. Education about brain injury is not a “one shot deal.” Families who under stress, tired and anxious are less likely to follow and understand what professionals are saying. There are many ways to educate families. An effective educational program has multiple components including…

  • Talking with families one on one
  • Arranging meetings with the treatment team and the family
  • Offering a family education group
  • Being available by phone or in person for follow-up questions and information
  • Distributing information about brain injury that is written just for families
  • Recommending websites about brain injury
  • Showing DVDs or CDs about brain injury
  • Having family members observe treatment
  • Teaching families how to be involved in the person’s care

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